Weak economy fails to deter arena panel

Posted Oct. 28, 2008, at 8:46 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:55 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Even in the face of an unstable national economy, the city is not backing off its proposed timeline for a much-needed new arena and convention center.

A special committee on arena implementation met late last week to address financing options and to move forward with an updated marketing study, but at no point did committee members talk about postponing the project.

“We’re motivated,” City Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes said Tuesday. “In fact, we’re trying to get a flag or something to put over at the site to remind people.”

Plans to replace the 53-year-old Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center with a new facility within Bass Park have been in the works for many years. Earlier this summer, the committee set an ambitious construction deadline of 2011.

More recently, City Manager Edward Barrett completed a draft request for proposal to update marketing and facility sizing needs that were last addressed in 2002.

“That original study was necessary to kick-start the effort, but now we need to refine it,” he said.

It’s not clear how much will change from the city’s 6-year-old study, but the project certainly will be more expensive. When the first study was done, the estimated cost was $64 million, but a revised estimate of $90 million was floated this summer, which would make the project one of the largest in Bangor’s history.

City officials have long believed that a new arena and convention center are crucial to Bangor’s growth. In recent years, many new businesses and upgrades have been made throughout the city, include a new police station, Hollywood Slots and others, but most agree that the arena has been the one missing link. What hasn’t been decided is how big the arena needs to be and exactly how it will be funded.

“The size of the building is still up in the air,” said Hawes. “We need to figure out: Do we need 5,000 seats or 6,500 seats? What would be best for the city and the region?”

The funding component is likely to be the most heavily debated part of the project. The longer the city waits, the more expensive a new arena and convention center will be. Barrett said part of the recent discussions have included examining financial options for the project, including phasing the project over time and working with other financial backers, both public and private.

“We’re looking at a number of other [funding] alternatives and could see a greater participation of the private sector,” the manager said.

Hawes said that even though the economic climate is far from perfect, investors still are investing.

“If anything, [the economy] could be to our advantage because sometimes you get a better deal when times are slow,” she said.

Barrett agreed that funding sources are not a big concern.

At least some of the funding will come from what Bangor receives as being the host city for Hollywood Slots. To date, the facility has generated nearly $4 million in revenue for Bangor.

The updated study is likely to be completed by early next year, at which point the arena implementation committee will complete sizing needs and firm up funding sources.

In the meantime, Hawes said, the committee and arena proponents are trying to keep people excited about the prospect of a new facility.

“We’re trying to convince people that it wouldn’t just be good for Bangor but the entire region and state,” she said.

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