After 45 years of service to the city of Bangor, Rodney McKay retired April 14. The municipal mainstay has held various positions during his tenure, spending the last 16 years as director of community and economic development. His wide-ranging duties included business attraction and expansion; marketing and managing the city's business and industrial parks; and facilitating new development. Some of the largest and most critical projects McKay oversaw involved downtown redevelopment and improvements to the city's waterfront.
Mainebiz chatted with McKay about his long career with the city. The following is an edited transcript.
Mainebiz: How did the city manage to turn around dilapidated structures such as the former Freese's building on Main Street, which now is home to both the Maine Discovery Museum and assisted living?
McKay: Almost every project used underutilized space, Community Development Block Grant funds or Tax Increment Financing to make the projects feasible.
Looking out the window here at City Hall, you can see three such projects, such as the University of Maine Museum of Art in the Norumbega building, and social services in the old Paramount Lounge and another building. It's dozens, if not hundreds, of small projects we've done to contribute to making Bangor a better place to live and work. A lot of it involved bought local buildings in the downtown area, with apartments upstairs, and retail or public use on the first floor.
How long had city officials been planning to clean up the Bangor Waterfront?
It started in the 1980s. We did things as funds were available. The initial plan was to go down as far as the Chamberlain Bridge. But when the railroad switchyard became available, we ended up with 36 acres along the whole mile. On Pleasant and Summer streets, private developers helped us a lot by re-doing buildings.
The spruced up downtown has been a good match for improvements to the Waterfront, hasn't it?
Who would have thought that Celtic Woman would come to Bangor? What we said might happen on the Waterfront is happening, and has been a great attraction.
One of the earliest major projects during your tenure was the city's agreeing to take over the airport when Dow Air Base closed down in the late 1960s.
The city council tried to get the state interested, but they weren't so the city bit the bullet. First it hired a fixed-base operator, and that didn't work at all. Then they hired Peter D'Errico, and he was very successful bringing trans-Atlantic flights here and having the Air National Guard contribute. They paid many of the shared costs for the airport, keeping it open 24 hours a day. And it didn't hurt to have a 2-mile runway stay open in all weather.
What projects would you like to see the city address?
We've been trying to work on West Market Square for years, and Main Street needs attention.
Is there one that got away, a project that just didn't come together?
The old Veazie Railroad Bed that goes up through to Old Town. I walked all the way along that rail line when I first got out of the Army, and it's been a fantasy to make that a public trail. I hope we keep looking at it.