Aside from a short-lived thrift store and art gallery and temporary campaign headquarters, 73 Central St. has been empty for decades.
73 Central St. in Bangor sits empty next to the Kenduskeag Stream. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The sale of 6 Central St. this month marks what may be the end of a decades-long process of reviving major downtown Bangor buildings, many of which were left empty by the one-two punch of urban renewal in the 1960s and ‘70s and the opening of the Bangor Mall in 1978.

At this point, all those large buildings have been purchased and rehabbed, for uses ranging from retail, restaurants and offices to new downtown apartments, thanks to decades of the combined efforts from the city, private investors, nonprofits and business owners.

All of those core buildings, except one: 73 Central St., a long-empty husk of a building that directly abuts the Kenduskeag Stream. Aside from a short-lived thrift store and art gallery, and temporary headquarters for political campaigns, the building has been unoccupied for more than 40 years.

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Bangor’s former city solicitor, Norm Heitmann, was heavily involved in efforts to rehabilitate many of those buildings, several of which the city took over before eventually selling them to investors or nonprofits.

Heitmann, who retired in 2019, said that bringing such buildings back to life has helped to change the face of the city — economically and mentally.

“It really shows the importance of making sure that the larger, more prominent buildings in any community are taken care of and not left empty. It has a big impact, maybe disproportionate to their size,” Heitmann said.

Aside from a short-lived thrift store and art gallery and temporary campaign headquarters, 73 Central St. has been empty for decades.
Pedestrians pass in front of 73 Central St. in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Until the mid-1970s, Bangor’s economic heart was downtown, with major retailers and businesses crowded into the city center. There were three anchor stores: Freese’s Department Store, W.T. Grant and Sears & Roebuck, located at 74 Main St., 6 Central St. and 40 Harlow St., respectively.

Bangor undertook the divisive Urban Renewal project between 1964 and 1974, demolishing a number of buildings, both major and minor. A few years later, in 1978, the Bangor Mall opened in a former cow pasture off Hogan Road. Within a few years, all three of those anchor retailers had either moved to the mall or closed.

What followed was more than 20 years of downtown lying fallow, with more storefronts empty than occupied. Throughout the 1980s and most of the ‘90s, downtown was all but dead — but by the mid-1990s, the effort to turn that ship around had begun.

When Heitmann began working for the city in 1995, one of his first projects was rehabilitating the Grant building. Heitmann said that having big empty buildings in a downtown area contributes to an overall negative feeling, psychologically and emotionally, about a city.

“It doesn’t feel good, not just aesthetically but also mentally, when you walk by big empty buildings. It just contributes to the feeling that something isn’t working there,” Heitmann said. “And the flipside is also true. If there’s activity, it contributes to a positive feeling about a community. I think back when I first started with the city in 1995, everybody had the attitude that something needed to change.”

By 1997, Cadillac Mountain Sports — later Epic Sports — had moved into the Grant building. It was followed in 2001 by the Maine Discovery Museum in the Freese’s building, and UMaine’s Zillman Art Museum in the Sears building in 2002. In the years since, a number of other large buildings have been redeveloped, like 28 Broad St,  25 Broad St., 29 Franklin St. and the block of buildings from 33 State St. to 193 Exchange St. 

73 Central St., however, has been an outlier. It was built in 1912, and for 60 years was owned by Eastern Trust and Banking Co, which had a bank in the building. In 1972, it was sold to Abraham and Phyllis Shapiro, who owned it through 1984. Central Street Associates then owned it from 1984 until 1992. From 1992 through 2003, the building was owned by Hawaii residents Robert and Adriana Duerr.

73 Central St. has sat largely empty for more than 40 years.
In this BDN file photo, taken in either 1984 or 1985, the newly constructed fourth and fifth floors of 73 Central St. are shown. In 1982, Bangor developer Donald Cohen announced plans to renovate a number of downtown buildings, most prominently 73 Central. Cohen intended to add a fourth and fifth floor to the building and turn it into a large athletic complex. The project ultimately failed — as did all of Cohen’s other plans downtown. The fourth and fifth floors of the building remain unfinished to this day. Credit: File / BDN

In August 1982, a Bangor developer, Donald Cohen, announced plans to renovate a number of downtown buildings, most prominently 73 Central. He intended to add a fourth and fifth floor to the building and turn it into a large athletic complex. Though the upper floors were added in 1984 and 1985, the project ultimately failed — as did all of Cohen’s other plans downtown. The interiors of the fourth and fifth floors of the building remain unfinished to this day.

In 2003, the Duerrs sold 73 Central St. to David Boyd, a resident of Emeryville, California. Boyd has rarely visited Maine, and has undertaken minimal upkeep on the building in the nearly 20 years he has owned it, and done little to seek out active tenants.

In 2016, Boyd owed the city approximately $35,000 in back taxes on the building. The city voted to take possession of the property, but Boyd later agreed to pay the taxes in full and undertake a number of improvements to the building, including fixes to the sprinkler system and facade, and to remediate mold issues, in exchange for the city returning the building to him.

In the years since, Boyd had continued to fall behind on his taxes, including in 2019. According to a lien filed in July 2022, Boyd owed the city $10,345 in unpaid property taxes; that lien will mature in December 2023. Boyd also still owes House Revivers, the Bangor firm he initially contracted with to complete the building fixes, thousands of dollars. According to Bangor’s code enforcement department, though work started at one point, Boyd also has not completed the building fixes that were required as part of his agreement with the city.

In 2015, local resident Jeshua Serdynski announced plans to open a coffee shop and roastery, Ragnarok Coffee Society, in the street-level space at 73 Central. More than seven years later, however, that business has yet to open, despite the fact that signage remains in the windows and equipment appears to be inside the building.

Serdynski declined to comment. Boyd did not return phone calls or emails.

Heitmann said the city is limited in what it can do with 73 Central St.

“You can either sit around and wait for those liens to mature and then try to take the building, though that doesn’t often happen,” he said. “Or you can work with some outside entity from the private sector that wants to buy the building, and see what the city can do to make it financially feasible.”

The city has taken possession of downtown buildings for unpaid taxes before. Charles Fitzgerald, a New York City resident, at one point owned the Grant building, the Freese’s building and 28 Broad St., among others in Bangor. In 1995, the city took possession of the Freese’s building after Fitzgerald failed to pay more than $21,000 in back taxes. Fitzgerald sued the city over it, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the city’s action in a 1999 decision.

73 Central St. is the exception to what has become a norm of redevelopment. Though it’s still within recent memory, it’s hard now to imagine that 30 years ago, downtown was dead.

“When I was a kid, downtown was incredibly vibrant. And then the mall opened, and it very quickly became a ghost town,” Heitmann said. “And now, look at what has happened. Downtown is this really inviting and growing place, and the mall is a shadow of its former self. It is interesting how the pendulum has swung. It’s taken almost 50 years, but it’s happened.”

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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.