A composite image of the interior of 50 Cleveland St. in Bangor, a city-owned building that formerly housed the Dow Air Force Base officers' club. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of City of Bangor

The former site of the officers’ club for Dow Air Force Base in Bangor will be transformed next year into a shared-use commercial kitchen, after the city was awarded more than $1 million in congressionally directed funds for it last week.

The kitchen, to be located at 50 Cleveland St. by the University of Maine at Augusta campus in Bangor, will offer small food producers across eastern Maine a chance to scale up their businesses affordably, without having to make their own costly investments in larger production facilities. 

“This new business development facility will create a professional, shared-use environment for Maine farmers and other agricultural producers to grow their businesses and add value to their products, supporting jobs throughout the region,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who supported the project.

There’s an untapped potential in food-based small businesses in Maine, said Tanya Emery, Bangor’s community and economic development director. Many operate out of their homes but lack either the funds or the facilities to expand production.

“It’s really hard to make the leap from a home-based business into a true commercial enterprise with larger production space,” Emery said. “This will be a middle point. You don’t have to create your own factory space. You can access a cooperative share of a space, where we provide the fundamental pieces you need to grow.”

The new facility will offer space for industrial baking, cooking, canning and packaging, and for cold and dry storage, among other potential applications. Businesses can sign up for time slots to use the various facilities. There is one other similar shared commercial kitchen in Maine — Fork Food Lab in Portland — but Bangor’s space will be the first municipally owned place of its kind in the state. 

For local food producers like Todd Simcox of Todd’s Salsa in Bangor, a facility like Bangor’s will mean that he can actually begin making his Maine product in-state again.

“We used to produce in Gray, and now we produce in Connecticut. There’s just no place for us to make our product here in Maine, even though we are proudly a Maine business,” Simcox said. “We’ve needed a facility like this for years now, and I think it’s going to make things a lot easier for folks like us to keep it local.”

Some of the salsas and hot sauces produced by Bangor-based Todd’s Salsa. Owner Todd Simcox said he hopes to utilize the new shared-use commercial kitchen the city of Bangor will build next year to produce his salsa.

Emery said that the idea for a city-owned commercial kitchen has been kicked around for more than a decade. But that idea didn’t start to become a reality until 2016, when the Maine Army National Guard gave the building at 50 Cleveland St. to the city, after it vacated the premises.

For decades, the 19,000-square-foot building, built in 1957, was used as offices and as an officers’ club for both Dow Air Force Base and the subsequent guard base.

“It used to host banquets and events, and there was a bar area and a functional kitchen. Of course, the kitchen hadn’t been updated in decades, but the basic capacity was there — plumbing, wiring, a hood system, all that,” Emery said. 

The city undertook some basic renovations of the building in 2018, including asbestos removal and other structural work, but it needs much more work to get it up to code and functioning as a modern facility. 

When the opportunity came to approach Collins about supporting funding the project with federal money, Emery said the city jumped at the chance, and Collins was enthusiastic about it. 

It’s all part of a broader effort to support job creation and workforce development in the Bangor region, in both the food industry and the trades. 

A related project, a collaboration involving Bangor, Brewer, Orono and Old Town, was recently awarded a $375,000 grant by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, as part of its Working Communities Challenge. That grant will support work to move people with criminal histories and substance use disorder into jobs, largely in the food service industry and the trades.

Emery said she expects the design process for the commercial kitchen to start in the coming months, with the project open for construction bids sometime in the fall. She anticipates work to begin sometime in the first half of 2023. Emery said the city hopes to partner with a local non-profit to manage operations of the facility.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how much of the total project the $1 million in federal funds would cover.

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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.