BANGOR, Maine — Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” lyrics about how “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” were mentioned several times during discussion about renovating Pickering Square, since one of the options on the table calls for adding 47 parking spots.
A total of 14 residents spoke for and against four options the city created for renovating the downtown square that serves as the hub for Bangor Area Transportation on Tuesday during Bangor City Council’s business and economic development committee meeting.
Adam Moskovitz, CEO of ANM Properties of Bangor, which recently purchased a block of six buildings on Exchange Street, and Ann Marie Orr, owner of 11 Central restaurant in downtown Bangor, were among those who said more parking is needed.
Greg Edwards, who lives on Pearl Street and uses a bicycle to get to work and is a member of Walk and Roll and Bangor Greendrinks, said creating a parking lot would do little to attract more people to the downtown. He said Pickering Square was once a market that “was a place of great commerce” but “in the ’60s it was flattened” and made into a parking lot due to urban renewal. Years later it was made into a small pocket park.
“It’s really taken a long time to get back to a place where we feel like we have a downtown we can be proud of,” Edwards said.
The goal of the renovation project is to provide a better experience for city bus riders and for people who use the Pickering Square parking garage, and to provide a better connection between downtown and the waterfront and as a space for public events or recreation, Tanya Emery, the city’s economic development director told the group. The city has about $1.2 million set aside to do the work, she said.
Councilor Ben Sprague, who spoke at the end of the meeting said, “I don’t think Pickering Square is a paradise,” before adding that one of the reasons city leaders are looking at revamping the area is “a lot of people do feel intimidated” there.
He said that is one reason why a local law enforcement officer is now stationed in the area.
“We can improve the aesthetics,” Sprague said. “I think it’s absolutely necessary to keep [the bus hub] downtown.”
Three of the four options would keep the bus hub downtown, and the fourth would add a parking lot and move the bus to another location that has not been decided. The first two options move the entrance of the parking garage, but because the structure is on a floodplain, costs are a prohibitive factor, Emery said. Option three moves the bus hub to the center of the square and option four adds the parking lot and removes the bus hub from downtown.
Councilor Gibran Graham said the city’s goal should be to improve the area, to attract more people in downtown to shop and eat.
“We talk about the unwanted element in Pickering Square. Most of the people who [hang out in the area] are homeless youth,” Graham said. “Just trying to move them is not going to fix the situation. We can’t tell them where to go. They are going to congregate wherever they want.”
He also added that Pickering Square is currently used by River City Cinema to play movies during the summer and Cool Sounds, which offers an outdoor market and music during warmer weather.
Councilor Cary Weston said the city needs to stop talking about the problem and should take some action.
“Five or six years ago we had the same exact conversation,” Weston said.
“It’s six years now and we haven’t moved an inch,” he added later.
The committee asked City Manager Cathy Conlow to do research with the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System and provide an update on what the federal government will allow since the site sits within a flood zone.
A workshop and other public meetings are planned in the New Year, Councilor David Nealley said to end the committee meeting.