BELFAST, Maine — Even though some Belfast city councilors registered their unease about forming a special corporation to help the city manage the former Belfast Maskers property, the council voted Tuesday night at a regular meeting to transfer title to an independent group created to do that.
The brand-new Belfast Development Corp. is intended to assist Belfast in getting environmental remediation grants for the property at 45 Front St. The corporation’s board consists of two city councilors, the city manager and two members of the public.
“The last thing I want to see is an entity that would compete with this council,” Councilor Roger Lee said. “I have to say, the whole thing just seems funny to me.”
Economic Development Development Director Thomas Kittredge said at the meeting that no board members can benefit financially from the corporation. City Councilor Nancy Hamilton said that she did not feel concerned about the new corporation.
“I think this type of entity allows a lot more freedom, and it doesn’t tie the council to real estate negotiations or whatever,” she said.
Additionally, the councilors agreed to commit to spend up to $1.27 million in matching funds that will be part of a grant application to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The city will seek federal funding in the amount of $1.8 million to reconstruct Front Street.
“Front Street has been in need of a major overhaul for years,” City Manager Joe Slocum wrote in his manager’s report. “The presence of the [Front Street] Shipyard, and the jobs it has created, will help our application for these funds. Without that help, we would not qualify for this kind of financial support.”
No members of the public were in attendance for a public hearing on whether to submit the grant application.
“The public seems not very worked up about it,” Councilor Mike Hurley observed at the meeting.
Councilors also heard an update about the Harbor Walk from Belfast City Planner Wayne Marshall. He told them that the city has finished constructing a piece that connects the Armistice Bridge with the wooden boardwalk that runs alongside part of the Front Street Shipyard.
Councilor Eric Sanders said that completion of the long-planned-for Harbor Walk is cause for celebration.
“When this sucker’s done, we should have a party,” he said. “There’s got to be an inaugural day to start it, even though I know everybody’s using it.”
Councilors also voted in favor of putting out a request for proposals for an education consultant to examine Belfast’s options for a school district. Hurley and Sanders pointed out that an overwhelming majority of voters have twice approved the city’s withdrawing from the beleaguered Regional School Unit 20.
“Before we go back to [the former] School Administrative District 34 schools, I think we need a completely open look,” Hurley said. “We could go back to SAD 34, or a possible go-it-alone strategy, or something else in the middle … I think we need a really good public discussion.”