City enters deal to fund 50% of new raceway barn

Posted Jan. 12, 2009, at 11:05 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The city entered into an agreement Monday with Bangor Historic Track at Bass Park to fund 50 percent of a proposed $1.8 million horse barn.

City councilors voted 7-1 in favor of the lease agreement, which will be paid for through revenue generated by Bangor’s downtown tax increment financing district. The other 50 percent will be paid for by Bangor Historic Track, a wholly owned subsidiary of Penn National Gaming Inc., which also owns and operates Hollywood Slots.

Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, the lone dissenting voter, cautioned that the investment of $900,000 by the city during such an unsure economic time was ill-advised.

“Our constituents expect greater prudence,” he said.

Other councilors, while sympathetic to Gratwick’s concerns, disagreed.

“As the landowners, we are bound to this,” Susan Hawes said. “The success of Hollywood Slots is tied to the harness racing industry.”

Councilor Pat Blanchette said harness racing has a tremendous impact on Bangor’s overall economy and that the existing barns are in terrible shape.

“How do you run a racetrack if you don’t have a barn for the horses?” she asked.

Already, Penn National has spent several hundred thousand dollars to build a new paddock and office building and has made much-needed repairs to the track’s surface, which took a beating last spring.

The new paddock has more modern amenities, a more convenient location closer to the track, and increased capacity with 21,000 square feet and 96 horse stalls.

Councilor Rick Bronson shared Gratwick’s concern about the high price of a new barn, but still approved the agreement. Councilor David Nealley called the agreement a “net-net benefit for the city.”

Initial discussions around barn replacement called for construction of two barns. However, the city agreed to start with one and see whether a need existed for another. It’s possible that the city might revisit funding for a second barn sometime down the road, according to Hawes, who sponsored the council order.

City Manager Ed Barrett explained that because funding for the barn will come from the downtown TIF revenue, the burden will not be put directly on taxpayers.

“We’re taking new tax revenue and reinvesting it,” he said. “It’s essentially a self-funding mechanism.”

In fact, a majority of the downtown TIF revenue has been generated by Hollywood Slots, which has an obvious vested interest in the success of harness racing.

Construction of the new barn could begin later this year.

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