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When Roy Hubbard left Connecticut to attend the University of Maine in Orono, he had no idea that less than a decade later he'd embark on an ambitious project to help reshape Bangor's historic West Market Square.
“I fell in love with the Bangor area,” Hubbard says. “Bangor sits right in the middle of a triangle between Baxter State Park, Acadia National Park and Sugarloaf.” The 2012 University of Maine graduate had worked his fair share of construction sites, and knew he wanted a career in real estate. “I knew I was going to be in real estate somewhere, and I didn't want to uproot and start all over again,” he says.
Hubbard admired the architecture of downtown Bangor's buildings and ornate houses. The Queen City has a rich history as a lumber port, and much of Maine's lumber in the 19th Century was shipped from here. Many of these lumber barons built Victorian and Greek revival homes in Bangor, many of which stand today.
Hubbard saw the potential in downtown development. He had worked with Abe and Heather Furth, who had acquired and renovated 91 Main St. in downtown Bangor.
Now they urged Hubbard to redevelop the derelict Dakin Building, at 28 Broad St.
“The building was an absolute train wreck,” Hubbard says. “It was flooded, there was a waterfall from the top floor, and hundreds of pigeons.”
Abe Furth motivated Hubbard to look past the flaws and redevelop the historic property into apartments.
The 24,000-square-foot building at the corner of West Market Square hadn't held a business for decades. Dakin's Sporting Goods had left the building in the 1980s, and other than a short-lived coffee shop and a TCBY, the building remained empty. “This building hadn't been close to being occupied for 30 years,” Hubbard says. “There was a ton of water damage, no utilities and, since the upper three floors were always used for warehouse space, there was just one bathroom.”
But, at its heart, the building had great bones and an enviable location.
When Hubbard heard that the city of Bangor was going to embark on a huge redevelopment of West Market Square, he decided to make the leap and buy the building in April 2014. After $2 million and over a year of work, including the removal of 180 tons of debris, 28 Broad Street Lofts has welcomed its first tenants.
Hubbard isn't alone in his desire to create apartments in downtown Bangor. “Off the top of my head, just in the past year, there have been 50 new apartments built in downtown Bangor,” he says. “Every landlord is helping downtown Bangor by having quality space for quality tenants. It's an 'everybody wins' situation.”
Tanya Emery, director of community and economic development for the city of Bangor, couldn't agree more.
“Downtown is the headline story of Bangor right now,” she says. “In the last two years there has been a significant change in downtown Bangor. People have so many more choices. For many years Bangor didn't have depth on the bench. Today, the bench is phenomenal.”
The perception of Bangor has changed, Emery explains, and people are now seeing Bangor as a destination. “We have a great community of developers who want to spend money in Bangor. The city is at the table to make it happen.” Emery points out that Bangor's commuting radius is easily 60 minutes. As rural areas around Bangor struggle, the city needs to be able to provide social services, shopping and entertainment opportunities, as well as overall support to the outlying areas. “It's a heavy responsibility,” Emery says.
Both Emery and Hubbard discuss the nationwide trend of reurbanization. For three decades, Bangor has worked to transform the downtown. The Bangor waterfront has been successfully redeveloped, new businesses have moved into empty storefronts and living spaces have been created to allow for a vibrant downtown area.
The owners of Central Street Farmhouse, a home brewing and natural baby supply business that opened in 2010, are taking up one of the few remaining empty storefronts on Main Street this July. Zeth and Betsy Lundy were living in Boston when they decided to start a family and move home to the Bangor area. Zeth Lundy ran the home-brewing arm of the business on the first floor of their renovated three-story building while Betsy tapped into the resurgence of the cloth diapering movement and ran the baby side of the business on the second floor. The couple built and occupied an apartment on the third floor until the birth of their third child in 2013 forced them into a larger space.
It was business growth that prompted the couple to move Betsy's venture to Main Street. In 2013 the couple purchased the Maine Cloth Diaper Co. Betsy wanted to be able to offer more retail options — like car seats and high chairs — for registries, but didn't have the space.
“We never expected this expansion to happen,” Zeth says. He credits the trend in home wine- and beer-making and the popularity of cloth diapering with their business model. They started Central Street Farmhouse in the right place and at the right time. The expansion to Main Street will allow the couple to offer more classes and support groups, which have become so popular through word-of-mouth advertising.
Matt McLaughlin, the current chair of Fusion Bangor's steering committee, is less than surprised at the amount of activity seen in downtown Bangor these days. He and the rest of Fusion Bangor have been working on community engagement for close to a decade.
“Young people have played a major role in the evolution of downtown Bangor,” McLaughlin says. The nonprofit prides itself on getting people active in the community through sports leagues, beautification projects, and networking events for Bangor-area professionals. The group's “Downtown Proud” initiative lends visibility to downtown where retail businesses stay open later than usual on a chosen weeknight and offer discounts for shoppers. “The size of Bangor means that you have the opportunity to make your mark here and make a difference,” McLaughlin says.
The majority of the beautification efforts, like the Adopt a Garden program and Fusion Bangor Cleanups, are volunteer efforts, Emery says. “These efforts give community members a piece of ownership downtown. The area is authentic, interesting, charming, and pretty.”
The city's West Market Square revitalization project was finished this spring after one year of intense construction. “The original plan was for a two year renovation, but we really wanted minimal impact for the local businesses,” Emery says. During construction last summer the area was hard to access, and the annual Cool Sounds Summer Concert series and Fresh Air Market on Thursdays were moved to Central Street, further alienating the businesses surrounding the square. To help, Bangor Savings Bank passed out $10 gift cards to restaurants surrounding West Market Square last August, an effort that showed restaurant owners that the community was rallying behind them.
This summer is quite different. West Market Square is now home to a new restaurant, several options for al fresco dining, a huge crowd for the Thursday night concerts and marketplace, and a brand new building with tenants who want to live in the heart of it all. “If you want to sit outside and enjoy a meal or a drink on Thursdays, you'd better get there early,” Emery says. “I was down there last week and all available outdoor seating was filled at 4:30 p.m.”
Hubbard hasn't had any problems renting out his new loft spaces. His building sits between West Market Square and the Kenduskeag Stream. One of his new tenants, who wanted to live in the heart of downtown, commutes 40 minutes to Dover-Foxcroft for work. “Ten years ago a lot of people looked past the 'for rent' signs in Bangor and took a chance, just like I did,” Hubbard says. “Slowly restaurants popped up and empty spaces were filled. Today it's clear that everyone wants to be a part of downtown Bangor.”