People wait in line before a Phish concert on the Bangor Waterfront in June 2019. One suggestion in a new strategic plan for Bangor's economic development is that the city create a new entertainment district along its waterfront corridor. Gabor Degre | BDN Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

A new strategic plan for Bangor’s long-term economic development suggests that the city create an entertainment district along the waterfront corridor and welcome refugees as a way to grow diversity and offset population losses.

The recommendations come from a strategic plan drawn up last fall by Ogden, Utah-based firm Better City that identifies concerns including recent population losses, the city’s continuing struggles with its homeless population and toll of the opioid epidemic. The findings are in line with much of what has already been discussed in the city, including in other city-sponsored studies and task forces convened about housing, workforce development and broadband.

The latest plan will be discussed at the Tuesday evening meeting of the city’s business and economic development committee.

Last fall, Better City engaged groups of local stakeholders, held focus groups with high school and college students, and conducted an online survey and in-person and virtual listening sessions to see what the primary concerns for the region are.

The growing unhoused population and the opioid crisis remain at the forefront of the list of concerns for the city. Housing in general remains a significant challenge, with 59 percent of the 377 respondents to the survey rating Bangor’s housing situation as “bad” or “terrible.”

That said, the report indicated that the current inflated prices and scarcity of housing inventory is likely to improve, and the overall affordability of the region remains reasonable by national standards.

The report found that, like most other municipalities in the state, Bangor is faced with an aging population and an urgent need to retain younger residents. The report recommended that the city focus on creating low- and mid-level jobs, and to capitalize even more on existing assets, like creating stronger connections between the city and the University of Maine and Husson University, and rehabilitating the Bangor Mall area to offer more options for both retail and dining, and for employment.

Better City recommended that the city create a youth council composed of local students. Among the students surveyed for the report, improving Bangor’s overall diversity was a priority for them, and the report recommended that the city’s newly formed Advisory Committee on Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Human Rights be emphasized and prioritized. It also suggested that the city consider accepting populations of displaced refugees.

The parent organization for Catholic Charities of Maine, which coordinates refugee resettlement in the state, applied to the U.S. State Department last spring to allow the organization to settle refugees in the Bangor area.

One specific suggestion was to explore the possibility of creating a cold storage facility near Bangor International Airport. The city’s connection to rail, air and trucking transport, and the fact that seafood and agricultural products from throughout Maine and Atlantic Canada pass through Bangor, make it an ideal location for such a facility.

As for improving quality of life, the report said Bangor’s network of parks, trails and recreation facilities and its close access to nature were among its major strengths, and suggested the city do more to improve and promote them.

It also suggested creating an “entertainment district” running from Hollywood Casino and the Cross Insurance Center to the waterfront amphitheater, with improved walkability and better connection to the downtown area. In addition, the report suggested adding things like more options for kayaking and paddleboarding, a fishing pier and e-bike rentals.

While the report noted the immense progress in revitalizing the city’s downtown area over the past 15 years, and said that such development is likely to continue, the next step would be to further improve downtown-adjacent neighborhoods, like the West Side Village between Union, Buck, Main and Third Streets, and the neighborhood around Coe Park and Court Street.

Read the full report here.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.