June 18, 2018
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Bangor council to reconsider West Market Square project

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors will circle back, voting again next week on whether the city should proceed with a roughly $975,000 makeover of downtown focal point West Market Square.

During an Aug. 26 meeting, the council voted to only move forward with utility work in the area around the square, replacing aging water mains and sewer and electrical infrastructure in that section of downtown. That portion of the project, which the city says is vital because many of the water and sewer lines are well over a century old, is expected to cost about $420,000, according to city staff.

That decision delayed other plans for the site that city staff had been working on with business owners and councilors for more than two years, according to George Kinghorn, president of the Downtown Bangor Partnership. The city and businesses had hoped to have all the work done in one fell swoop, so the downtown didn’t have to deal with two separate disruptive construction phases.

The full renovation would include new brickwork, lighting, a sidewalk widening, benches to replace the deteriorating wooden ones, and tree and shrubbery removal and replacement. The project was meant to give the square a fresh look, improve safety and eventually connect Bangor’s downtown with the waterfront.

Several councilors cited concerns about the costs of the project when the city has several other tasks and projects on its plate, in spite of the fact that downtown tax increment financing funds, along with sewer and water district funds, already had been set aside for the projects.

City staff cautioned that if the council did the work in two phases, putting off the aesthetic improvements until next year, it would mean tearing up the streets in the area twice, for several months each time, and cost at least $100,000 more, bringing the overall cost for the project to $1.075 million, according to Tanya Emery, interim director of economic and community development for the city.

After more presentations and discussion Wednesday night about the city’s options, the Business and Economic Development Committee voted to send the issue back to the full council for another vote.

That $975,000 price tag is higher than the $800,000 the city cited previously because it includes the $117,000 toward water infrastructure replacement that will come out of Bangor Water District funds, as well as some alternative bid items that the city may not move forward with at this point, Emery said. The money still would come from the same sources, she said.

Kinghorn said he was surprised when the council voted not to move ahead with the full project despite having funding set aside for it.

“We are certainly looking forward to seeing positive and visible enhancements to the square to keep up the momentum of further growth downtown,” Kinghorn said Wednesday, adding that the partnership hopes the council changes its decision and goes with the full project, rather than a phased approach that will mean two construction seasons rather than one.

Whether the council decides to do the full project or just the utility portion, the project would go out to bid in January 2014 and construction would begin in the spring. If the council were to choose to do only the utility portion, work would take about four months. Construction on the full square project would take about six months.

Regardless of which way the council vote goes, the construction downtown next spring and summer will be a headache, City Manager Cathy Conlow told the councilors.

“That is going to be a painful summer for everyone down there,” she said.

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