Belfast struggles with unwanted role as wedding planner

Belfast Boathouse in the winter.
Belfast Boathouse in the winter.
Posted Aug. 06, 2013, at 10:29 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 07, 2013, at 12:27 p.m.

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BELFAST, Maine — Belfast City Hall is set up to do lots of things, including register voters, provide a marriage license and generally get city business done.

But it’s not set up to manage Bridezillas, Belfast City Councilors learned at Tuesday night’s regular meeting. They heard from City Manager Joe Slocum about how the city’s managing agent received more than 100 phone calls and emails from a bride-to-be and her mom who were coordinating a wedding this year at the Belfast Boathouse. The city-owned facility located right on the harbor and has been rented for rates that range from $75 for a half-day mid-week rental to a nonprofit agency to $1,850 for the entire weekend for nonresident weddings and other large events.

The city has also recently dealt with a wedding party that brought in its own refrigeration equipment to augment the small on-site kitchen, which resulted in short-circuiting the electricity to the building, and a different party that came in by boat and built its own gangway from the water to the Boathouse.

“It’s a beautiful location, and everybody tries to make it so much more than what it really is. As a result, we have problems in setup and operation,” Slocum wrote in his manager’s memo. “We need to see and decide whether in the long-term we could really offer this facility for rent and at the same time, accommodate the public’s need for both the use of Steamboat Landing [park] on one side, and the beach, benches and parking access on the other.”

He had suggested several proposals aimed to smooth operations for the facility, which in the 14 months from May 2012 to June 2013 brought in $29,455 — mostly in the summer months. Slocum proposed upping the rental fees for the facility, providing two fee schedules for the offseason and the busier, warmer months, and abolishing the practice of offering partial weekend rentals at any time of year. He also suggested the possibility of closing it entirely for some of the slower winter months.

Slocum told councilors that he had frozen rental bookings for the Boathouse until some of these matters are ironed out.

“It is amazing, the amount of time some people can consume,” the city manager said during the meeting. “There’s no [city] person at the Boathouse during events. We don’t have a caretaker, a door person. This is a very low-key, turnkey thing. If you’ve got the key, you’ve got the headache.”

Councilors discussed the Boathouse situation at some length, touching on waiving or reducing the fee for some nonprofit groups, increasing fees, limiting organizational time spent per renter and finding someone to be on call during events in case there is a problem. They reached no firm decisions and plan to revisit the matter at a future council meeting, they said.

“I’m just amazed people think they have the right to make 100 phone calls,” Councilor Mike Hurley said.

In other business, councilors:

• Confirmed Brian Lunt, who has served as a Belfast Police Officer for 12 years, as the newest police sergeant.

• Agreed to a request from Maine Farmland Trust to close sections of Beaver, Pendleton and Main streets for the Maine Fare event held from Friday, Sept. 6, to Saturday, Sept. 7.

• Signed off on a revised skateboarding ordinance that would allow the activity in some portions of downtown Belfast, though not downtown sidewalks, most of Main Street and on the Harbor Walk.

• Approved a 110-day option on a lot in the Belfast Airport Business Park for a man who is interested in constructing a new, 3,400-square-foot office building with 40 parking spaces that he would try to lease for a 10-year period to the United States Department of Agriculture. The structure would be designed as the agency’s new Waldo County office, and developer Gary J. Hagan estimated it will cost approximately $350,000 to build, according to Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge.

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