AUBURN — Festival Plaza may be one strong wind gust away from losing its signature multicolored canopies for good, according to city officials.
"They are up," City Manager Clinton Deschene said. "The vendor has told us that if there is another rip, they don't think they can repair them. I can't tell you they won't last the summer but I can't tell you they will, either. I'm hopeful they will last."
City councilors on Monday cut $60,000 from the city's Capital Improvements to purchase a new set of canopies.
"I don't know how many other vendors make these," Deschene said. "What we were doing is trying to get a rough number and then take them out to bid."
The red, yellow and blue canopies attach to the distinctively shaped poles in the center of the plaza and stretch to the edges. They are made of tightly woven nylon mesh. The entire structure, from the poles to the fabric, was designed and made by artist Charles Duvall of Rockport for $170,000. It includes two sets of the mesh canopies, six canopies in total.
Work began on Festival Plaza in the summer of 2001, with the canopies being installed for the first time in September 2002.
They are taken down each fall and put back in the spring. When they were installed, city officials said each canopy was designed to last between five to seven years. The city alternated between sets, putting one set up one year and the spare set up the next year, to give them even wear.
According to the 2012 budget, it would cost $60,000 to replace the canopies. That money would be paid out of the city's downtown Tax Increment Finance fund.
Councilor Tizz Crowley said the canopies may look nice but they may not be the most practical decorations.
"I know that they are very costly and if there is a 60 mile-per-hour wind, they have to come down," she said. "So, it looks like somebody didn't look at routine maintenance when they put those up."
She'd like to see traditional flag poles put up in the plaza, either to augment the canopies or replace them.
"It's a location that really represents Auburn well," she said. "How can we keep it looking good and keep it accessible while keeping it practical? Because $60,000 is a lot of money."
Councilor Leroy Walker said he's fine with keeping the canopies if downtown businesses, local community groups or someone can raise the money to pay for replacements.
"For all the years we've had these things, someone should have come up with a plan to buy a new one every year or every other year," he said. "If they maintain these correctly, they should last. Then they can come up with a way to raise the money."
He suggested running wires across Main Street to hold rentable event banners and advertising space or renting the plaza out for special events.
"That would all help pay for new canopies," he said.