Bangor sign reaffirms commitment to arena

Posted Dec. 18, 2008, at 9:35 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — It’s just a sign, approximately 4 feet by 7 feet, but city leaders hope it becomes a permanent and constant reminder of Bangor’s commitment to building a new arena and convention center in the coming years.

City staff and council members were at Bass Park on Thursday morning to unveil the new sign, which reads “future site of new arena complex” and even displays a conceptual design of what the structure might look like. An ambitious groundbreaking date of 2011 also has been announced.

“This project has been in discussion now for five years and we’re here today to cement that it will, in fact, happen, and that it will not be done on the backs of taxpayers,” said Susan Hawes, city councilor and chairwoman of the arena implementation committee.

City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer regaled a small crowd that gathered Thursday morning with the history of civic centers in the Queen City. The first, he said, was built in 1897 for $12,500. The current auditorium and civic center, which also sits in Bass Park, cost approximately $1.2 million in 1955. By all accounts, though, it is well past its prime.

“We’re very excited; this is one of the best Christmas presents I can imagine,” Palmer said. “We have money in the bank thanks to our friends across the street at Hollywood Slots. We hope this shows the public that we are very serious about this.”

It’s only because of Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway that a new arena is even possible. When the city agreed to host Maine’s only racino, it created a fund that includes a portion of slots revenues as rent and another portion from the state as a host community fee. Bangor will receive both annually.

Earlier this week Bangor’s finance director Debbie Cyr presented to council members an update of racino revenue since Hollywood Slots opened in November 2005. So far, the city has banked about $4 million toward a new arena. For the first two years, the facility actually generated about 20 percent more revenue than ex-pected. Through June 2008, the racino was about 14 percent ahead of projections, Cyr said. More recent numbers that reflect the national economic downtown are less optimistic.

Palmer, however, was not.

“Things are down all over,” he said. “But Penn National [the racino’s parent company] is in better shape than other gaming companies and I think they will recover and do well.”

While revenue from Hollywood Slots will pay the lion’s share of costs associated with a new arena, the arena implementation committee is exploring a number of other funding options, none of which involves raising taxes. Some ideas include offering corporate naming rights and creating a private partnership for operations.

Despite the economy, Palmer and Hawes both said businesses still are looking to invest and construction companies are eagerly seeking out projects.

“We still have much more work to do and details to work out, but we can’t afford to wait any longer,” Hawes said.

The city recently commissioned another study to determine sizing needs and to update costs estimates, which could exceed $100 million. Bangor would have to bond the project and, it is hoped, pay the loan back largely with its annual slots revenue.

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