Auditorium Aim

Posted Feb. 06, 2009, at 6:26 p.m.

In a matter of days, thousands of parents, family and friends of high school student athletes will tramp into the Bangor Auditorium. They may remark on the cold, or, if the cold spell snaps, they’ll notice the water dripping from the roof into buckets. Almost all will leave the auditorium proud of the young athletes, but it’s doubtful that anyone will leave proud of the facility.

Bangor city officials must remain focused on building a new auditorium and civic center. Whether the project comes to fruition in the next five years or later is of less importance than getting it done right. A facility that is well-matched to the Bangor region’s strengths, while also built with a dose of realism about its geographic limitations, could become a powerful economic development tool and cultural calling card for the city.

While caution, due diligence and exhaustive planning are essential, questioning whether or not to proceed with the project should not enter the conversation at this late date.

It’s true that the current economic downturn makes projecting demographic information difficult. Clearly, concerts and conferences fall into the disposable income category for families and businesses, and marketing studies may be pessimistic about the need for a new facility. But at the same time, a recession means that consultants will work for less, and construction costs also will be at a low ebb. The many beautiful and highly functional public facilities built on the federal dime during the 1930s are testimony to this dynamic.

The foundational funding source for a new auditorium and civic center is the Hollywood Slots casino. Its revenues are down, and the business probably is reduced to educated guesses about what its future bottom lines will look like. On one hand, stalling plans for a new auditorium and civic center out of worry that the casino will cease to be profitable and close seems fiscally prudent. But on the other hand, if such a worst-case scenario plays out for such a historically profitable business, far more frightening outcomes would follow than a study that gets shelved for lack of construction funds.

Bangor residents supported the casino with the belief that they would see a new auditorium and civic center. It is not acceptable for city officials to renege on that promise. If one marketing study raises more questions than answers, the city should seek another. If city councilors are split on the vision for the new facility, they should talk it through and seek more public input. Slowing the process for that sort of information gathering is acceptable. But stalling out of ambivalence about the project is not.

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