Empty Spaces Part 1 

Wayne Harvey

Signs of the recession are all around us from people losing their homes and jobs to big losses in the stock market.One blatant sign that’s of concern to local officials is the number of vacant businesses.Those empty buildings, with no business being created, no employees earning a paycheck, are a concern for economic planners in Maine, but it’s not the only thing that keeps them up at night.”Empty buildings are always a source of concern.” Says D’arcy Main-Boyington Brewer’s Director of Economic Development. “I think that with the retail and big box type stores the biggest concern is the perception because to go by and it’s very visible. Those are on well travelled roads and so those buildings are very visibly empty where as a building in an industrial park where there are manufacturers may not be as visible to the public but they cause me more stress I guess because it’s more damaging to the local economy.”One of the problems when it comes to businesses closing in Maine is that it’s not something that can be fixed locally. It’s happening everywhere.The goal is to fill those empty spaces quickly.” We get concerned when it happens” says Rod McKay Bangor’s Director of Community and Economic Development. “And we don’t like to see it happen but generally we don’t have to be concerned for very long before the building’s reoccupied.”McKay continued “The closures you’ve seen have been industry. Circuit City has closed all their stores so it’s not just what’s going on in Bangor, it’s what’s going on in the industry.”In Brewer, their approach is that if they take care of jobs in industry, the retail jobs will follow.”Actually what we do is spend our efforts and our finances to try to attract manufacturing and the value added businesses, not the retail and restaurant type businesses.” Says Main-Boyington “Our theory here is that if the economy is doing well, if we are putting money in people’s pockets through the value added type jobs, then people will have the money to spend on retail and restaurants.”The city of Bangor wants those empty buildings to be filled because that takes the tax burden off residents according to McKay.” Like any other organization our expenses are increasing and they way we can meet these increased expenses without raising the tax rate is by bringing in new development, so that new development the value of that is increasing the amount of tax money we have coming in and allowing us to keep our tax rate stable, so as not to put additional taxes onto property owners.”While neither city actively joins in the recruitment process of new businesses – they leave that up to the leasing companies – both city planners are willing to help, not only during start up of a new business, but says Main-Boyington throughout its lifespan.” We want to help them not only with the start up which is obviously a difficult time for a business but all the way through so we try to make sure that we maintain the relationships with our businesses and that we work on retention all the time and not just new start ups or expansions.”