Some of the best arguments happen when both sides are right.
It’s understandable that some Bangor residents don’t want to listen to the crowd noise, music and bass emanating from Waterfront Concerts when they’re trying to enjoy a quiet summer evening or put a child to sleep. In the same way, others should be able to enjoy the music — whether it’s hip hop, country or heavy metal — and contribute to the local economy by eating out and spending the night in the Queen City.
A way forward must bring the two sides closer together, to discuss how to achieve equity. If the noise can’t be completely eliminated, it’s only fair for residents whose quality of life is being diminished to receive a greater, more direct benefit from the concerts. Since only those residents can say what will help, they should take an active role in future city discussions about the concert series.
Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague was correct to point out in a Wednesday OpEd that the Waterfront Concerts venue isn’t going anywhere, and a solution will not be found quickly. The best way to prevent the noise from reaching parts of the city — an extended roof over the stage in Waterfront Park — is expensive and would take time to construct. But the council is trying to find middle ground and will convene a group of city officials and residents to come up with recommendations.
Aside from a new roof, any solution should involve finding a way for the city to more directly show the benefit of Waterfront Concerts. The city gets $1.25 per concert ticket, which resulted in $110,204 in revenue for Bangor in 2012. (The venue promoter sets up and pays for electricity, restrooms, clean-up, marketing, maintenance and a police detail during events.) Instead of putting the revenue into the general fund, the city could use some of it for a more visible sign of the concerts’ impact, if residents wish.
Would they like a cultural development fund for artistic projects throughout the city? An improved kayak landing? What about a scholarship program for local students pursuing certain careers? Or, maybe residents would rather just see exactly how much Waterfront Concerts eases their property tax burden each year. The city council could make a point to calculate and broadcast that direct benefit.
Residents can know the series has generated more than $30 million for the local economy in its first three years, as University of Maine economist Todd Gabe found. But if a woman’s clearest memory of the concerts is not being able to sleep when she has to wake up at 4 a.m. for work, or a man’s strongest association with the concerts is his child crying because of the pounding bass, the economic infusion may appear distant, even inconsequential.
A project or fund over which they have a level of ownership won’t make the basic problem go away, but it might make it better. Those overseeing a venue with a purpose to generate income and enjoyment should ensure the benefits are spread equally.