By Bill Kirk
---- — It doesn’t seem like it would take much. A well-meaning local resident and businessman proposes that a banner be hung across Main Street in the heart of downtown to herald community events such as Andover Day, Holiday Happenings, annual Town Meetings and the like.
But this, as they say, is Andover, where every change, even little ones, can take a long, long time.
In fact, it’s even spawned a joke: If you want to do something here, you have to propose it over and over and over and over. Put the word “and” together with “over” and you get: Andover.
So it is with this banner, something proposed nine years ago by Andover’s Mark Spencer, a former photography shop owner who now runs Water Analytics, a manufacturer of water treatment technology.
Spencer, the former president of the Andover Rotary Club, first proposed flying a banner downtown in 2004.
“That’s when we started,” the Spring Hill Road resident said. “There were a ton of hurdles to cross. And this wasn’t my full-time job. Even if I had spent all my time and energy on this and worked at it full-time, it still would have taken five years.”
But early Tuesday morning, with help from a small army of volunteers and town workers, the first promotional banner — complete with steel guide-wires, building anchors and high-strength, rip-stop nylon — was hung with care.
Measuring 30 feet wide and 36 inches tall and announcing the upcoming Andover Day on Sept. 7, the colorful, blue and yellow banner stretches from the corner of One Main Street, home of the bridal center housing Cristina’s, to the corner of the Barnard Building at 8 Main St., home of Indra Salon and Latitude Sports Clubs. Both buildings are owned by Tom Belhumeur.
“It is the happiest day of my life,” Spencer said, “second only to my daughter being born.”
And he’s not joking. It’s almost as if Spencer himself gave birth to this Brobdingnagian banner.
A banner’s slow rise
A cursory review of Andover Townsman articles and an interview with Spencer gives some indication of why it took so long to get this thing hung.
Spencer told the Townsman in January 2008 that he and fellow members of the Andover Business Community Association began working on a banner bylaw in 2004 after they were told by town officials that year that they couldn’t hang a banner to promote — you guessed it — Andover Day.
Town officials told him that since there was nothing in the sign bylaw about banners, they must be illegal.
“It was a very severe reading of the bylaw,” he said. Rather than take that as a defeat, Spencer worked closely with local attorney Peter Caruso and Jim Kapelson of Kap’s Menswear on a new bylaw that addresses banners.
“I researched every bylaw across the country and wrote it myself,” he said, adding that Andover’s now senior planner Lisa Schwarz was instrumental in guiding him through the process of researching and writing a bylaw that would get the necessary approvals.
Once it was written, the bylaw ran the gauntlet, garnering approvals from the Board of Selectmen, Design Review Board, Planning Board and the now-defunct Main Street Committee, among others. Spencer and his team held numerous meetings with town officials, including many with the building inspector.
“We went through one committee after another and wore everyone down until we had everybody on our side,” he said.
Then, it was on to Town Meeting — one of the events the banners are intended to promote — where voters in May 2008 approved Spencer’s bylaw.
Another warrant article to provide nearly $50,000 in funding for the installation of two poles to hold the banners was withdrawn.
“We didn’t want to kill the bylaw,” Spencer said.
Then, it was back to selectmen — this time for approval to form a committee that would raise money for the poles, which at the time the group thought were needed.
That’s when the effort stalled because the banner committee couldn’t find a good place to mount the poles that wouldn’t interfere with underground utilities.
“We were dead in the water,” Spencer said. “I thought it was over. We couldn’t find a place to put the poles and even if we could, we couldn’t figure out how we were going to raise the money for them.”
In October 2010, Spencer got an email from Merit Tukiainen, former owner of Night & Day, a specialty store for women’s lingerie on Park Street that closed in 2011. Tukiainen, still active in town affairs including Andover Day, suggested Spencer contact Belhumeur of CHB Enterprises of Swampscott, the owner of 1 and 8 Main St., two buildings on opposite sides of the main thoroughfare through downtown.
Belhumeur agreed to let Spencer and his group install brackets on his buildings, which now hold the removable steel cables for the banners to be flown.
“Merit called me, out of the blue, so I called Tom,” Spencer said. “He needs to get a lot of credit.”
Working closely with Mark Baldwin of Baldwin Crane in Wilmington as well as his engineer, Jeff Berry, they figured out a way to put up the banner without a lot of fuss.
As he was renovating 1-7 Main St., home of the Bridal Center, Belhumeur had brackets installed on the corner of the building. Across Main Street, Berry suggested putting brackets on the Barnard Building, which had easy access via the roof of the adjacent, one-story building at 4 Main St., home to the former Andover Gift Shop.
“You only need a bucket truck from one side,” he said.
Finally, at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, the first of what is hoped to be ongoing banners was installed. The early-morning timing was necessitated by the need to shut down Main Street while the steel wires were put in place and the banner was pulled across the street.
Spencer’s efforts were lauded by town officials, including selectmen, with whom he met on numerous occasions.
“I applaud Mark’s persistence,” Selectman Paul Salafia said. “He is focused on business development in Andover and he should be commended.”
Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli echoed that sentiment.
“It took a lot of effort by Mark Spencer,” he said during last week’s selectmen’s meeting. “It will nicely frame out nonprofit events.”