BANGOR, Maine — As city leaders continue delicately discussing plans for a new arena and civic center, a state senator has introduced legislation that would ask the state to kick in up to $25 million toward the project.
Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, drafted LD 507, An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for the Construction of a Multi-use Arena in Bangor, because he said the city should not be solely financially responsible for something that will benefit the entire region.
Perry said he recognizes it’s not easy in the current economic climate to ask taxpayers for more money, but he also said this is exactly the kind of project Maine residents should get behind.
“It’s going to be a long shot, but I think if the state has a bonding package — and it will — that this should be included,” he said. “A new arena would put a lot of people to work for a long time.”
The measure would require a two-thirds majority in both the Maine House and Senate just to get the referendum question on a statewide ballot. The question would read: “Do you favor a $25,000,000 bond issue to provide funds to build a multi-use convention arena for the City of Bangor?”
When asked why Maine voters outside the Bangor area should approve a bond for a new arena, Perry answered, “Because the entire state will benefit by way of sales tax.”
Earlier this month, Bangor city councilors and staff began discussing the idea of updating a market study for a new arena. The discussion prompted some councilors to question whether the timing was right to spend approximately $75,000 for a new study. In the end, no consensus was reached and councilors voted to postpone a new study indefinitely.
That decision elicited displeasure from members of the Bangor Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, who urged the city to move forward with a study immediately.
“It’s important to keep momentum going behind the Bangor brand, and we see the arena being essential to that momentum,” Chamber board chairman John Diamond said earlier this month after the City Council’s decision.
Some city councilors responded to that pressure from the Chamber and CVB by asking, hypothetically, “Why hasn’t anyone else offered to pitch in with financial support?”
So far, the only revenue stream for a new arena is Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway, which has generated more than $4 million toward a new facility. Estimates for a new facility have ranged from $40 million to $60 million.
“But just because we have slots revenue doesn’t mean we should be paying for it ourselves,” Perry said. “Either way, Bangor is still going to pick up the biggest share in terms of maintaining a new facility.”
All four House members from Bangor — Adam Goode, Sara Stevens, James Martin and Steven Butterfield — have signed on as co-sponsors of Perry’s bill.
Butterfield agreed with Perry that a thriving arena in Bangor would help the entire state, so it’s only fair that the city should not shoulder the financial burden.
“It’s almost unheard of for a city of Bangor’s size to do this on its own,” he said.
Councilor Susan Hawes, who has chaired the city’s arena implementation committee, said she was glad to see a state senator push the idea of a city-state partnership.
“We know it’s a long shot, but the more we publicize this, the more citizens will realize why we’re trying to do this,” Hawes said.
Added Council Chairman Gerry Palmer: “I think we need to look at all possible funding sources, whether it’s state, county or private investors. We’ve always said this is not going to be done on the backs of Bangor taxpayers.”
City councilors plan to revisit the discussion for a new arena market study at a meeting of the Business and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. It’s not clear whether they plan to stick with delaying the study or if they will opt to move forward instead.
Perry, meanwhile, said it’s unlikely his bill will be taken up in Augusta until after the biennial budget is dealt with.