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August 20, 2018 Focus: Greater Bangor/Northern Maine

From waterfront to downtown, Bangor's seeing investment and change

Photo / Peter Van Allen In downtown Bangor a 'Greetings from Bangor' mural offers a warm hello to visitors, though the building is in need of work.

Bangor's growth can be seen on a number of fronts. The Hollywood Casino and Racetrack and Cross Insurance Center across the street are a focal point of entertainment and events. The Waterfront Concert series has successfully brought big music acts and people to Penobscot River waterfront. The downtown, which is arguably one of Maine's most architecturally distinguished, has seen an influx of new restaurants and stores. Bangor Savings Bank, Maine's second largest bank, has completed one phase of its waterfront headquarters, with Phase 2 set to open next year. Challenges remain. The Bangor Mall has lost key tenants and has been sold. One of the downtown's most prominent buildings, the McGuire Building, features an impressive “Greetings from Bangor” mural, but the upper stories are crumbling and windows are literally falling out. The “opportunity” part of the challenge is that the building is in hope that a future owner would find the building well situated to play a key part in the downtown revival. Here's an overview of some projects going on in Bangor.

Bank HQ connects downtown to entertainment district

Photo / Peter van Allen
Bangor Savings Bank has a prominent new headquarters on the waterfront in Bangor.

Bangor Savings Bank recently opened the first of its new waterfront headquarters buildings. The five-story, 31,500-square-foot building houses the bank's administrative and wealth management divisions. It has a prominent place overlooking Front Street and the Penobscot River, a parcel bounded by Front Street, Railroad Street and Main Street. (The street address for the first building, 24 Hamlin Way, is a nod to the bank's founder, Elijah Hamlin.)

Steps from the completed building, on the same 4.6-acre parcel, is a second part of Bangor Savings' expansion, a 117,000-square foot operations center. It will open next year and is being built by Cianbro Corp., Maine's largest construction company (and builder of the WEX Inc. headquarters in Portland).

In all, the site will be home to at least 400 people — employees who are buying lunch, supporting local businesses, living in and supporting the region. The bank, with 60 branches, has a total of 800 employees. The project is estimated to have a value of $35 million.

Its prior headquarters, at 99 Franklin St., about a mile away, was in the downtown business district. The new headquarters reflects Bangor Savings' major role in the city, in effect creating a bookend for the downtown while connecting the entertainment district.

“I think the Bangor Savings project is a great jump start on what the city has been working toward — that connection between the 'Entertainment Corridor' and downtown, so they don't feel like two totally different things,” says Tanya Emery, Bangor's economic development director. “The Entertainment Corridor concept is anchored by the Cross Insurance Center, Hollywood Casino and Raceway, and now Waterfront Concerts has a long-term deal which provides another anchor point. The spaces proximate to these are changing over in time, and the bank project puts many more employees in the vicinity on a daily basis. So it's not just about big show nights — it's about a daytime scene, an evening scene, a weekend scene — all in one.”

Home for business college on the horizon

Rendering / Courtesy Husson University
Husson University is raising $16 million for a building to house the College of Business.

Husson University continues to work toward its goal of raising $16 million for a college of business building. The Bangor school hopes to break ground on the project sometime in the next two years.

The Alfond Foundation jump-started the campaign last year with a $4 million grant — the largest in the college's 120-year history.

Husson's College of Business building would have 32,000 square feet of “experiential” classrooms and offices, supported by an advanced technology infrastructure. The building will feature interactive learning spaces designed to foster interdisciplinary learning. It will fuse business education with science, technology, engineering, art and math opportunities. The STEAM-oriented learning spaces “will become the incubators of future jobs in our state,” the college said.

“Husson University is committed to meeting the needs of the Maine economy through its entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary educational initiatives,” Greg Powell, chairman of the Alfond Foundation, said when the grant was made. “This is an institution with strong, committed leadership and a strategic vision for the future, and we are delighted to support its efforts.”

J.B. Brown's investment signals confidence in market

Photo / Peter van Allen
80 Exchange St., which is under new ownership.

J.B. Brown & Sons' purchase of 80 Exchange St., in Bangor, signals the Portland commercial real estate and asset management firm's confidence in the city as a growing market.

The sale involved one of the most visible office structures in Bangor. The 88,478-square-foot, six-story Class A office building, on 1.2 acres, was built in 1973 and renovated in 2007, according to the broker, to CBRE|The Boulos Co.

The purchase price was $3.5 million, according to the City of Bangor Assessing Department. The asking price had been $5 million and the property took more than a year to sell.

“We had it on the market for a lengthy period of time,” says Charles Day, who represented the seller. “The office market in Bangor seems to be evolving. It's starting to come back a little bit.”

Dead River Co. had occupied two floors of the building, but decided to sell the building when the company downsized and vacated one floor, said Day. The Boeing Co. also had a full floor but vacated last year.

“It made sense to put it up for sale,” he said. “We had a lot of local interest. But they couldn't get to the price we needed.”

The building now has 2½ floors available for lease. The building is anchored by the law firm Eaton Peabody. Camden National Bank occupies the first floor and Dead River continues to occupy one floor. Eastern Maine Psychiatry & Behavioral Health also has a small suite.

“It's usually the Bangor people going down to Portland,” Day says. “But between what's going on with the Bangor waterfront, the investment that Bangor Savings Bank is making down there, and the whole resurgence of the downtown with the restaurant scene and lots  of the older buildings being converted into apartments, there's some real energy there right now. So it's significant that someone like J.B. Brown, which has been around for 200 years, sees some value there. That's the message I want to get out — that you have someone that's not in the local market who's bullish on Bangor.”

Law firm beefing up litigation staff

Photo / Courtesy Rudman Winchell
Joshua A. Tardy

Rudman Winchell, a Bangor law firm, hired political heavyweight Joshua A. Tardy, who served four terms in the state House of Representatives as a Republican from District 25. He also served as House minority leader. Tardy will be part of the Rudman Winchell litigation team. During the legislative session, he will continue to counsel clients and politicians through his affiliation with Mitchell, Tardy and Jackson in Augusta.

A downtown resurgence

Bangor's downtown has what are sometimes called “good bones.” Historic buildings made of granite and brick, combined with good pedestrian access, convenient parking and foot traffic provide some of the ingredients retailers look for.

Tanya Emery, Bangor's economic development director, cites the addition of the Black Bear Brewery and Bangor Arts Exchange on Exchange Street.

“[They are] two awesome additions to a formerly dark section of downtown,” she says. She also notes the addition of Novio's Bistro and City Drawers, which has a location in Belfast.

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