The Bangor City Council will soon decide whether to extend its contract with the company of local concert promoter Alex Gray, in exchange for the company making at least $7 million in improvements to the waterfront venue it leases from the city and paying the city a greater share of its ticket sales.
Waterfront Concerts now has a 10-year deal with the city that runs until 2027. On Monday night, the City Council will consider extending the agreement until 2032, with the option to renew it for another 25 years after that.
But two councilors who have raised concerns in the past about the city doing business with Gray said they’re undecided on the contract extension. They said they hope to see assurances that his company is training its employees in recognizing domestic violence and preventing it.
Their concerns came after Gray pleaded guilty to a charge of domestic violence assault after his ex-girlfriend accused him of choking her and slamming her head against the floor of his Portland condominium in 2017. The misdemeanor charge was eventually dismissed, and despite his guilty plea, Gray has maintained that he did not assault her.
The case sparked a larger debate about how Maine cities should handle abuse allegations and prompted calls for Bangor to sever the 10-year contract that it signed with Waterfront Concerts in September 2017, just a month before Gray made his guilty plea.
While Portland rescinded a deal with Waterfront Concerts in response to the case — and contracted instead with the company’s national partner — Bangor officials said they couldn’t legally sever the company’s existing lease to hold concerts in Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion.
Now, the City Council must decide whether to extend Bangor’s relationship with the company beyond 2027.
At least two members of the council, councilors Dan Tremble and Cary Weston, said they plan to vote for the extension.
“I’ve been 100 percent in favor of this for a long time,” Weston said. “It’s probably one of the largest economic development initiatives the city has seen in a generation and I look forward to seeing what happens extending it into the future.”
Under the extension, Waterfront Concerts would continue to pay an increasing share of ticket proceeds to the city as rent. The company now pays the city $1.396 for every ticket sold, a rate that will rise to $1.572 by 2027. After that, the rate would rise every five years the city and Waterfront Concerts continue to do business.
Waterfront Concerts would also have to invest at least $7 million in the Bangor venue over the next two years. New amenities would include permanent bathrooms that the city could also use for its own purposes — and for which the city would chip in $300,000 — and new structures to prevent noise from spreading outside the venue, Gray said.
While noise complaints have generally become less of an issue for the company in recent years, last weekend’s show featuring Lil Wayne and Blink 182 did lead to a fresh wave of complaints, according to Tremble.
Gray said he needs the longer-term commitment from the city to justify making those improvements.
“This allows us to do stuff we might not do for a shorter contract,” he said in an interview.
Council Chairperson Sarah Nichols and Councilor Laura Supica said they still don’t know if they will support the contract extension, even though they recognize the development that would come from holding more concerts in Bangor.
They said in separate interviews this week that their hesitation was not a direct response to Gray’s past behavior.
Rather, they would like to see his company do more to train its employees in preventing domestic violence going forward, just as the city has improved the training its own staff receive in the wake of his case.
Nichols and Supica also said they’d like the city to do more work overall with its contractors to prevent domestic violence, but added that the city works with a wide range of companies and is limited in what trainings it can legally require.
Extending the Waterfront Concerts contract would be “much easier if I heard that they’re starting one,” Nichols said. “It would keep me from being conflicted. That goes for anyone we do business with. I want to make this an issue that is thought about. There is a blemish on this particular organisation, but that doesn’t mean that no one can redeem themselves in this sort of way. ”
Gray said that Waterfront Concerts has not considered specifically training its employees in domestic violence prevention and that his own case “doesn’t really represent anything that would be consistent with a cross-section of the team here.”
“It’s not something we’ve discussed,” he said of the training. “I would say that the municipality as a whole has the opportunity to put a policy in place if that’s what they choose to do with all businesses.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.