A day after Penobscot County officials unveiled their proposal for a new county jail that would stand eight stories tall at the site of the former YMCA on Hammond Street, people who live, work and spend time in downtown Bangor had mixed views about how well such a structure would fit into the area.
Besides raising questions about whether the county needs a new jail, some expressed fear Tuesday that the building would be a large eyesore as the Queen City continues trying to revitalize its downtown.
“The wind got taken out of me,” said Eric Mihan, co-owner of Bangor Wine and Cheese Co. on Hammond Street, of his initial reaction to the news. “I’m not particularly happy, as someone who has invested a lot of time and energy, not only in downtown boards but in other institutions. Without knowing all the facts, I’m initially kind of horrified.”
While Bangor Wine and Cheese Co. is directly across the street from the current Penobscot County Jail, Mihan added that the new one would be far more imposing.
“If this is a giant new facility that’s going to dominate the skyline, why are you putting it in downtown Bangor?” he said.
As proposed, the structure would be one of the tallest buildings downtown and sit on a hill overlooking West Market Square.
County officials have said that the building would be hard to see from the center of town because it would sit 125 feet back from Hammond Street and the historic Penobscot County Courthouse would block it out of view. On Monday, county officials said the old courthouse would regain the visual prominence it lost when the YMCA, just up the hill on Hammond Street, was expanded in the 1960s.
The proposal is the county’s latest plan for a larger jail that would alleviate overcrowding at the current facility, which is licensed for 157 inmates, and reduce the need for the county to board inmates out to other county jails.
The project must still clear numerous hurdles before it can go forward, including approval from county voters to issue bonds to cover its price of between $65 million and $70 million. Penobscot County expects to ask voters to approve those bonds in the June primary. The city of Bangor would also have to approve the 250-bed facility and grant some zoning changes or exceptions.
Some people who were walking around that part of downtown on Tuesday were either unaware of the county’s proposal or indifferent to the concept of an eight-story building going up there.
“I wouldn’t be upset about it,” said Bangor resident Gail Fogarty, who was avoiding ice and slush as she walked up Hammond Street. “I would just hope that they make it pretty.”
Others raised concern about the effects the project could have on nearby neighborhoods, including the closure of Court Street from Hammond Street to Bean Court.
“We have a nice little neighborhood enclave,” said Roxanne Munksgaard, a Court Street resident who also co-owns a downtown business, Maine Jewelry and Art on Harlow Street. “To have an eight-story jail right there, I just think we can do something better. When you get off the interstate and come down Hammond Street, I don’t think it would be a good entry to the city.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.