BANGOR, Maine — An idea for about 35 years, the revitalization of a prominent Queen City neighborhood may finally come to fruition.
The area — which has come to be named the “Main Street Corridor” by Bangor city staff members — is a 3,600-by-2,000-foot tract of commercial, residential and mixed-use properties bordered by Main, Buck, Third and Union streets.
“They initially looked at that area back in 1977 and put together a plan, but it was too much of a bite to chew on,” said Rosie Vanidestine, Bangor’s assistant community economic developer. “It’s continually been an area that’s been talked about as complaints and crime and issues arise or come up.”
The goal — which has been reignited by the recent Waterfront developments including Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway, Waterfront Concerts Pavilion and the ongoing construction of the new civic arena and events center — is revitalization.
That means addressing a variety of complex and sometimes interrelated issues, upgrading physical attributes, improving the standard of living and addressing public safety concerns in the neighborhood all at the same time.
What are the issues in your neighborhood?
While revamping streets and sidewalks, adding parks and improving lighting are all parts of the initial project blueprint, infrastructure improvements aren’t the only components.
“There’s been a lot of council discussion about our investment in the waterfront and the arena, and we’ve had a group of people coming forward asking for help,” said Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow.
The issues include civic and criminal complaints, desires and improvements through code enforcement, ordinance revisions, construction, renovation and input by residents and city officials alike.
“I don’t think anyone’s concrete as to understanding what it’s going to look like as we go forward,” said Bangor City Councilor and Mayor Cary Weston. “There will be a lot of changes and alterations, but I think as we look at Main Street and that economic corridor, things are progressing to a point where we have to take planning much more seriously now than we did a decade ago.
“This requires a lot of planning and vision and time is not a luxury anymore.”
Especially if, as city officials hope, much of the funding for the project study and the project itself comes from federal Community Development Block Grant money.
“If we’re going to dedicate CDBG money there, we’d have to make some proposals by the May deadline,” said Conlow. “I think we can go full speed ahead, yes. It’s been on the middle burner for awhile, and now it’s being moved to the front,”
Staff members are wasting little time as the first step was setting dates for neighborhood meetings to solicit input from residents and invite their participation in shaping the project.
Meetings have already been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8, and Thursday, March 1, at the James F. Doughty School auditorium. All residents and members of the public are encouraged to attend.
“We’ll definitely need citizen involvement and I believe some residents have already kind of banded together to work with us on this,” said Vanidestine.
Revitalization, not renewal
Continuous complaints about crime, blight, property abandonment, run-down properties and unmaintained apartments by absentee landlords were major catalysts for the corridor project idea, but city officials are quick to point out this is not a repeat of Bangor’s late 1960s urban renewal.
“It’s not urban renewal in the traditional sense people talk about it,” Vanidestine said. “It’s not cleaning out older properties and replacing them with newer ones. It’s more a community revitalization project.”
Weston stressed the need to learn from history and past mistakes.
“If you look at urban renewal, it was looked at a way to cleanse societal problems and blight and start over again, but we lost a lot of history in the process,” said Weston, a lifelong Bangor resident. “Tearing down a building is not urban redevelopment. We certainly don’t want to clear-cut history and go back to ground zero.”
So Bangor civic employees are looking at ways to combine beautification with law enforcement and legal revisions, among other things, to address problems and revive a geographically significant city area bordering the Waterfront.
“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of complaints from that area. More than other areas? I don’t know, but we have spent an inordinate amount of time on issues in that area at various times, not to say we don’t with other areas as well,” said Jeremy Martin, Bangor’s code enforcement officer. “Property maintenance is a huge issue when it comes to residents and city officials. I hear from people on that issue every week, because the condition of a neighborhood affects the values of the properties in that neighborhood.”
Martin said code enforcement and city ordinances will certainly be a main component of the project and study.
“The multifamily apt buildings with absentee landlords who don’t maintain property is a huge complaint,” Martin said. “Police get called a lot for property maintenance issues in general, life safety issues, illegal dumping, crime.”
Other possible civil options include land acquisition, land use and zoning changes, establishing new neighborhood partnerships and implementing streetscape enhancements such as community gardens, greenways and parks.
From pipe dream to project
The next step after soliciting public input is hiring a consultant to conduct a study of everything from the number of buildings, units, vacant or abandoned buildings, homeowners and renters to existing laws, ordinances and codes.
Conlow said the city has a request for proposals out already for some planning assistance, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann is researching various ordinances and Vanidestine is meeting with residents.
A study could begin as early as July when potential CDBG funding becomes available.
“It’s really a moving target right now. Geographically, we hope to look at it phase by phase,” said Vanidestine. “I think it’ll be a 3-5 year project. Maybe more, depending on unforeseen issues and costs, but I don’t have any clue on how much something like this would cost.”
As with many big civic projects, this one may not be finished until long after current councilors have finished their terms, but Weston says for a big project like this, the most important thing is starting it.
“It now becomes more an economic reality and less a wish. If we want to be serious about our economic vitality of our future, then Main Street and its adjacent streets have to be part of it,” Weston said. “The real challenge for this council is to clearly understand the vision, purpose and goal of this plan.”
“As a lifelong resident of Bangor, I can tell you this project enables me to be excited about something that’s a passion of mine and that’s keeping more young people here in Bangor.”