The company that runs a popular concert series on the Bangor waterfront has been without a new contract with the city for at least seven months, as the two sides negotiate issues around the volume of the music and the length of a new agreement.
City officials and Waterfront Concerts have been negotiating a new long-term contract allowing the Old Town-based company to continue managing concerts and shows at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion since the fall. But with the start of the 2017 concert season beginning in less than two weeks, a new deal is still not in place.
“My expectation is that before the concert season ends in August we would have a contract,” City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said. “We’re negotiating a 10-year contract. It may be somewhere between five and 10 years.”
The city is allowing Waterfront Concerts to operate under the terms of the last five-year contract, which expired in October — an arrangement that could be honored into next year if a new deal is not reached, Baldacci said.
Meanwhile, the pavilion this summer is slated to host the fewest shows in its history under Waterfront Concerts. There are nine concerts booked this season, compared with 21 last year, 11 in 2015 and 14 in 2014, respectively. There were 20 concerts in 2013. The series’ first year under the Massachusetts-based company New England Concerts in 2010, had the fewest concerts, with only seven.
City solicitor Norm Heitmann, who is leading the negotiations on behalf of the city, said the two sides are still discussing ways Waterfront could keep the volume down during concerts but declined to discuss specifics or say what other topics are still being negotiated.
Despite boasting a record-low number of noise complaints in 2016, the volume of music blaring from the venue’s speakers has been a major point of contention over the years.
Last year, 10 of the 21 concerts at the pavilion exceeded decibel level guidelines developed by the city, though there is no ordinance in place that levies a penalty against an artist if that level is exceeded. The city received 86 complaints during the 2015 day-long the Rise Above Festival, which featured metal and hard rock bands.
And when newly elected city councilors wanted to delay a vote on a new 2012 contract in 2011 so they could discuss the noise issues, Waterfront Concerts founder Alex Gray threatened to take his business elsewhere.
“If Bangor doesn’t want us, we’ll leave,” Gray told city councilors in November of 2011.
The pavilion under Waterfront Concerts has been a major money maker, generating about $48 million to Penobscot County’s economy between 2010 and 2013, according to a 2015 study by University of Maine economist Todd Gabe.
Gray, who was arrested on a domestic violence charge in March after allegedly attacking his girlfriend following an argument at his Portland condominium, did not respond to several requests for comment by email and by phone. Other Waterfront Concerts employees have directed all questions to Gray.
“We have an excellent working relationship with Alex,” Baldacci said. “He is presumed innocent, and we are talking about a long-term contract with him.”
Waterfront Concerts also books shows at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and the Merrill Auditorium, the Cross Insurance Arena and Aura nightclub in Portland, among other locations throughout the state.
Portland on May 12 rejected a long-term contract with Gray that would have guaranteed his concert promotion company the right to hold shows at the Maine State Pier for 10 years and build permanent structures on the site.
City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the city council is considering long-term plans for the busy Maine State Pier and wants control of the development of the site. But city officials are willing to allow Waterfront Concerts to hold shows at the Maine State Pier on a year-to-year contract basis.
Baldacci and Heitmann said Portland’s rejection of a long-term contract with Waterfront Concerts will have no bearing on Bangor’s negotiations with the company.
The last scheduled meeting updating councilors on the status of Waterfront Concerts contract negotiations was held on April 10. Those meetings have been held during executive session, and Heitmann said he does not expect the council to discuss negotiations again until sometime in June.
Waterfront Concerts’ summer concert series kicks off on May 27 with a sold-out show by the hard rock band Tool.