After a year that brought mixed results for Bangor’s retail and commercial scenes, city officials are hoping some recent success stories will set the tone for 2019.
Even as the Bangor Mall remains among the city’s largest taxpayers and some key tenants have renewed their leases, it had a turbulent 2018, losing one of its anchor stores and seeing its appraised value cut by 22 percent.
But there are strong signs elsewhere in the city, such as high occupancy along the Stillwater Avenue retail corridor, and the expansions of Bangor Savings Bank, Pineland Farms Dairy Co. and ice manufacturer Getchell Brothers Inc.
As city leaders look to 2019, they’re feeling buoyed by those developments while also considering what they can do to revitalize the mall.
“Most of our business sector continues to expand,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said. “It’s not large-scale stuff. It’s smaller businesses. We filled up a lot of properties.”
While the problems at the mall have been “glaring,” she said, “all is not bleak in Bangor.”
Happy 40th, Bangor Mall
The Bangor Mall celebrated its 40th birthday in October, but that milestone was eclipsed by more ominous developments in 2018.
It lost its Sears anchor store earlier in the year, and a city appraisal found its property value had plummeted 22 percent, to $47.3 million as of April 1, 2018, from $60.9 million a year earlier, according to the Bangor city assessor’s office. The mall is still appealing the 2017 assessment, arguing for a lower value that would result in a property tax refund. Also, late in 2017, the mall’s primary owner defaulted on an $80 million loan it had taken out against the mall.
Another large vacancy came to that area early this year, when the Toys R Us on Bangor Mall Boulevard closed after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, leaving a vacant retail building. The neighboring building that housed Kmart and Hands of Hope Thrift Store also remains partially empty, save for the Bangor Market Bazaar that opened in the fall on weekends.
The decreased valuation of the mall properties led to a $400,683 drop in the amount of property tax it owed to the city, from $1.6 million in fiscal year 2018 to $1.2 million in 2019, according to city figures.
Still, the mall and surrounding retail areas have had a handful of bright moments in recent years.
Two of the mall’s major remaining tenants, J.C. Penney and Hannaford, renewed their leases this year, while a new one, Furniture Mattress & More, is now leasing a space once held by Macy’s — although that particular space is not technically owned by the mall. A Texas company that was appointed to work as a receiver for the mall plans to keep operating the property as a retail destination.
Some other local businesses and organizations also have become new tenants of the mall in the last few years or are close to doing so, diversifying the mall’s tenant base. Those tenants include Ten Bucks Theatre Co., House 27:4 Church ( formerly CityReach Church of Bangor) and Dream Dress Bridal.
What’s more, the city is not overly dependent on the mall for tax revenue or jobs. In 2017, it accounted for less than 2.5 percent of the city’s overall property taxes, and it’s no longer one of the city’s largest employers, according to an annual city report.
Along with a bump in residential property development this year, business developments such as Bangor Savings Bank’s new $35 million waterfront headquarters expected to be completed in 2019 and other business expansions have grown the city’s tax base, helping to offset a decline in revenue from the mall, Conlow said.