June 17, 2018
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Bangor panel votes 5-3 to delay study for new auditorium

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Plans for a new auditorium in Bangor suffered a setback Wednesday when city councilors decided against auditioning firms to conduct an updated market and sizing study.

At best, the decision delayed a study for at least six months, but at worst, it puts the long-term viability of the plans in serious jeopardy.

City Manager Edward Barrett already had invited five marketing firms to visit Bangor next week, one of which likely would have been paid approximately $75,000 to survey the city’s needs and project costs for a new arena.

Now, Barrett will have to call those firms back and say thanks, but we’re not ready.

If Wednesday’s discussion among councilors, which lasted two hours, is any indication, the marketing firms may not be asked back soon, if at all.

“What’s the harm in waiting six or eight months?” asked Councilor David Nealley, who was among the majority in the 5-3 straw poll against the study.

Councilor Pat Blanchette said the decision to wait would make Bangor look weak and indecisive. City leaders already have been talking about a new arena for the better part of a decade.

Eight of the nine city councilors were present at Wednesday’s meeting of the Business and Economic Development Committee and each had a unique opinion as to what could and should happen. Absent, however, was any sign of a consensus.

Richard Bronson, a newly elected councilor, argued against the measure even though the prospect of a new arena was the main reason he said he decided to run for City Council in the first place. But, he added that the talks so far have been fraught with problems.

“It seems to me that we can’t afford a new one, we can’t keep the old one and we can’t go without,” Bronson said flatly.

City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer, a longtime proponent of building a new arena to replace the 50-year-old Bangor Auditorium, said the city cannot afford to wait any longer.

“There is a risk in moving ahead, but there is a risk in doing nothing, too,” he said.

Added Councilor Susan Hawes, who supported the study: “We’re wasting staff and councilors’ time. It doesn’t speak well for us.”

Also polling against the study were Peter D’Errico, Hal Wheeler and Richard Stone. Geoffrey Gratwick was not present.

It was in 2002 that the city first commissioned a marketing study that examined the costs and benefits of building a new arena. That study was done primarily to convince Bangor residents to approve a racino with the stipulation that some of the proceeds would fund a new arena.

However, now that the city has a steady revenue stream (about $4 million to date from Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway), it needs what Barrett called a more focused and disciplined study.

Even the councilors who were against approving a new study admitted that the study was probably a good idea. But they also cautioned that the poor economy has yet to hit bottom and that the racino may not always be a permanent fixture.

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