Construction in the heart of downtown Bangor has meant dusty environs, torn-up sidewalks, diverted traffic and the appearance of an imposing construction scene for much of the spring and summer. The result for a number of businesses in the affected area has been a dropoff in customer traffic.
There’s little question that West Market Square in Bangor’s downtown needed the $1.3 million structural and cosmetic overhaul that’s wrapping up as the fall begins. First, the city needed to replace aging sewer and water infrastructure — some of which dated back to before the Civil War — with reliable pipes laid down in a deliberate fashion.
Second, with the area already torn up, it made sense for the city to take advantage of the opportunity to give West Market Square a makeover with widened sidewalks, improved lighting, trees and new brickwork.
The renewed West Market Square could prove a draw to downtown that props up businesses in the square and delivers a substantial return on investment. But it doesn’t change the fact that, in 2014, those same businesses have taken a hit because of the construction.
As construction progressed, the city took a number of steps to try to mitigate the impact on the affected businesses that it should build upon in the future. A key part of the strategy was communicating with those affected business owners so they were aware of construction plans, including the timing for each portion of work on West Market Square.
The Downtown Bangor Partnership and the city also hosted a series of “ Hard Hat Happy Hours” at bars in the construction zone in an effort to drive traffic to those affected businesses. The happy hour took place at a different bar each week over the course of four weeks in August and early September. The Downtown Bangor Partnership raffled off gift certificates to businesses within the construction zone and parking passes for the downtown Bangor parking garage.
As the city looks ahead in the coming years to other infrastructure improvements, such as work on the commercial section of Broadway, it could focus more on creative strategies to drive customers to affected businesses during — and after — periods of construction.
When Salt Lake City, Utah, extended light rail train service about a decade ago, it set aside funds to help market affected businesses during construction. Those promotions included coupons and advertising for special promotions at affected businesses. The businesses gave out car wash coupons to customers who parked their cars in areas dirtied by construction dust.
In Portland, Oregon, the transit agency carrying out the light rail development had a marketing campaign to publicize the fact that shops, restaurants and other establishments were open during construction. The marketing campaign included prominent “open for business” signs and banners in the area and promotional materials sent to 16,000 homes.
Both of those larger cities also had the resources to issue low-interest loans to affected businesses to help them balance their books during construction. As a policy, Salt Lake City now sets aside 1 percent of project funds for a revolving loan fund designed to help businesses stay afloat during construction.
The West Market Square overhaul and upcoming investments in Bangor are on a significantly smaller scale than the installation of light rail in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Oregon. But Bangor could consider more aggressive promotional campaigns to try to drive traffic to affected businesses during future construction.
In West Market Square, the city says it’s at work planning some efforts to drive customer traffic to construction-affected businesses now that work is wrapping up. Bangor-area residents, meanwhile, can also make it a point to patronize those same enterprises.
With aging infrastructure, there are similar construction projects in Bangor’s future, which is all the more reason to get it right when helping businesses weather the disruptive and dirty work.