May 25, 2018
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Concert promoter weighs in on Bangor Waterfront improvements

By Evan Belanger, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — After months of planning, an engineering firm recently unveiled a concept for major improvements to the Bangor Waterfront intended to upgrade the concert venue, allow more public access and provide an economic boost to the city.

Whether the improvements are made will depend on several factors, including the cost of the project, who pays for it and negotiations with concert promoter Alex Gray.

Gray, founder and principal of Waterfront Concerts, said this week the concept created by FTL Design Engineering Studio provided “some really pretty pictures” and “very well thought out usage,” but he said the project is still “in the infant stages.”

“Nobody even knows what the pricetag is. Some people say $20 million, I’m told, and some people say $30 million,” he said.

The city contracted FTL in December at a cost of $65,000 to create the proposal. Its release comes as the city’s contract with Waterfront Concerts for use of the property approaches its final year. It comes up for renewal on Oct. 12, 2016.

During its meeting Aug. 4, the City Council’s Business and Economic Development Committee asked Community and Economic Development Director Tanya Emery to begin gathering cost estimates, working out a timeline and initiate conversations with Waterfront Concerts that will determine who will pay for what.

Gray said, as a stakeholder, he was involved in the process that created the new concept and thought it addressed many of the issues faced by patrons of Waterfront Concerts and other groups that use the city-owned site.

“I think that those folks, including our patrons, deserve some bathrooms, deserve just better fan amenities, better concession areas, a better overall experience on the Waterfront,” he said.

Since its launch in 2010, Waterfront Concerts has drawn tens of thousands of music fans to the city. It also has generated numerous noise complaints, though the number of complaints has been on the decline.

Gray, whose company also operates the Maine State Pier concert venue in Portland, said Monday there have been fewer concerts in Bangor this year because he has avoided bringing to the venue certain types of music that tend to generate more complaints.

The concept for improving the venue includes a permanent covered performance facility with seating for up to 6,500 concertgoers and a multi-use green space that would provide additional seating for another 8,000 to 10,000 concertgoers.

By covering the venue with an acoustic shell and a permanent tensile canopy and by rearranging speakers to focus sound only on the concert venue itself, the changes could reduce noise complaints, cutting outside noise generation in half, said Nicholas Goldsmith, a senior principal at FTL.

Gray said the proposed improvements do much more than just address sound issues, most notably addressing accessibility issues at the site.

Other amenities in the proposal include a widened Railroad Street able to accommodate pedestrians and food trucks, additional entrances along Main Street and a ticket kiosk near Main Street.

They also include permanent concession areas and permanent bathrooms, a community plaza green with its own smaller performance facility, improved trails and signs directing visitors to nearby attractions in the city.

Gray said he already has a public-private partnership with the city and remains open to discussing the proposed improvements with city officials. That partnership is critical to continuing the concerts in the city, he said.

City officials had planned to present a Waterfront Concerts renewal agreement to the council last year, said City Solicitor Norm Heitmann, but they delayed discussions until the FTL plan was completed. Heitmann said the proposed 5-year renewal agreement, when presented to the council, will likely include elements of the proposed upgrades.

Gray does not anticipate problems renewing the contract.

“I think we’re very far away here, but we’re very excited,” he said. “I think the city is doing the right thing for the region and to keep us in Bangor for the next 40 years. I think this is a smart move on their part, and I commend the council for spending the money.”

A native of the Bangor area, Gray said he plans to remain in the city as long as possible, even though it would be less expensive to build an amphitheater elsewhere in central Maine.

“The biggest acts in the world play in Bangor, Maine, and that defies conventional wisdom,” he said.

Asked about the FTL proposal, City Councilor Pauline Civiello said addressing noise from concerts remains her first priority.

“I think I would have been happier if I had heard we now have the Waterfront Concert plan going forward, but our first priority is to make sure that the sound issues are resolved,” she said.

Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Norm Heitmann's title.

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