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Bangor city councilors will soon decide whether to dissolve a 60-year-old group that helped demolish many local buildings as part of a federal effort to revitalize America’s cities in the 1960s but that has been largely inactive since the early 1990s.
This week, the city’s Urban Renewal Authority met for what may be the last time so that its five members could vote to disband. On Monday, the City Council must consider whether to approve the dissolution.
Formed in 1958, the Urban Renewal Authority left a number of lasting impacts on Bangor. With federal funding and the authority to seize blighted buildings, it created a plan to modernize the city by demolishing some 100 structures across 50 acres near the Kenduskeag Stream so that the area could be redeveloped.
The controversial effort not only removed “a lot of substandard housing,” but it also tore down cherished institutions such as the Bijou Theater on Exchange Street, according to former City Councilor Gerry Palmer Jr., a member of the authority who voted to dissolve it on Monday night.
“It was kind of historic in a very small way,” Palmer said of this week’s vote to dissolve the Urban Renewal Authority. “I’m old enough to remember urban renewal. There was some good and some bad.”
Another lasting contribution of the program was the development of a section of Bangor between Stillwater and Mount Hope avenues into the Stillwater Park neighborhood.
But Palmer wanted to correct what he says is a common misconception that urban renewal led to the destruction of the train station at the confluence of Kenduskeag Stream and the Penobscot River. In fact, Union Station was sold and demolished because the Maine Central Railroad decided to halt passenger rail service to Bangor in 1960.
After the federal Community Development Block Grant Program was formed in 1974, taking the place of the urban renewal program, Bangor’s Urban Renewal Authority lost most of its steam. It only had a few advertised meetings between the late 1970s and now, largely to remove the restrictions on buildings over which it had authority so that they could be altered.
In recent years, Bangor city councilors have directed staff to begin dismantling the Urban Renewal Authority and for all its remaining authorities to be transferred to the City Council, according to Bangor City Solicitor Norm Heitmann.