BANGOR, Maine — Plans to makeover West Market Square in downtown Bangor have been put on the back burner, but the lion’s share of the project will still happen underground, the City Council decided Monday night.
Citing concerns about the costs of the project when the city has several other large tasks on its plate, councilors voted to move forward with planned sewer, water and electric infrastructure upgrades underneath West Market Square, and to delay proposed “aesthetic” improvements.
The city had planned on an $800,000 renovation to the square, including new brickwork, lighting, a sidewalk widening, tree and shrubbery removal and replacement and more. Instead, after an amendment by Councilor Jamie Gallant, councilors opted — some reluctantly — to only complete the $455,000 portion of the project that was dedicated to underground utilities work, including the replacement of some of the city’s oldest sewer infrastructure.
The remaining $345,000 in downtown tax increment financing funds that had been offered up for the project will not be used in this phase of it.
Art Morgan, the city’s director of public services, said that the council’s decision to hold off on the “aesthetic” portion of the project likely will cost the city an additional $100,000 when the council decides to finally move forward with it. Those costs stem from the fact that the city will need to mobilize equipment and resurface the road twice — once for the underground infrastructure and again when the city decides to do the remainder of the project.
The project was meant to give the square a fresh look, improve safety and, eventually, connect Bangor’s downtown with the waterfront. City staff had hoped to tackle underground infrastructure improvements at the same time, since the same ground would need to be dug up for the square’s surface improvements.
Councilor Ben Sprague supported Gallant’s amendment, but said he also supports the idea behind the full project. He asked the council to “press pause” because the city is in the midst of a study of the city’s bus services, mulling the future of Pickering Square, and has demolitions planned for a pair of Court Street buildings, so cost is an important concern.
Area businesses supported the full project, but were concerned about the fact that it would have taken away five parking spots on Broad Street.
Councilor Pauline Civiello asked the council to move ahead with the full project, arguing that “the money’s already been budgeted, it’s a ready-to-go project … and a good investment.” Councilors Joe Baldacci and David Nealley also supported moving ahead with the full West Market Square plan.
Also during Monday night’s meeting, the council:
• Held a first reading of an order that would authorize a $300,000 bond to fund a City Hall replacement roof. Problems with the current roof, which was installed in 1999 and expected to last 10 years, became apparent after heavy rain storms earlier this summer. City officials say the repairs will need to happen before this winter. A public hearing will be held on that bond during the Sept. 16 council meeting.
• Voted to start a fund to accept optional donations toward arts and cultural projects. The funds raised will be given to the Commission for Cultural Development to help fund cultural and artistic projects in the city. The City Council will continue to review all funding recommendations made by the commission. An opt-in form will be sent along with city sewer bills to Bangor residents, welcoming them to contribute to the fund. The fund was proposed after the latest budget season, in which the commission saw its funding from the city slashed along with other city services.
• Voted to accept a $2,000 donation from Councilor Joe Baldacci and Discovery House to keep the Community Connector’s Odlin Road bus route going until the city can find a more permanent means of funding it. The city continues to solicit and accept donations to keep the route, which was cut in this year’s budget because of a $20,000 budget cut.
• Accepted a $597,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration that will help C&L Aerospace, an aircraft maintenance and repair company based at Bangor International Airport, build an aircraft painting facility as part of its overall expansion.