Auditorium deserving of funding

Posted Feb. 19, 2009, at 10:21 p.m.

It’s time for that tourney time ritual: Lamenting the gradual demise of the venerable Bangor Auditorium and wondering how to fund a new one.

With each year that passes, the aging edifice at the corner of Buck and Main streets gets older and its replacement cost grows another $5 million — current estimates now range up to $90 million for a 6,500- to 7,000-seat facility.

During tourney week basketball fans largely ignore any deterioration because everyone’s more into watching kids live out their competitive dreams in a facility that for this particular sport remains a desired destination filled with atmosphere and history.

But during the rest of the year the V-roofed wonder of the mid-1950s is an architectural antique lacking the amenities to serve as a modern entertainment center for eastern and northern Maine or as an economic development tool for the region’s primary service hub.

Impatience with the status quo is growing, and the challenges are mounting.

A vote by the Bangor City Council to delay a $75,000 updated marketing study for a new arena was met with frustration by two local business groups, and subsequently was reversed Wednesday night.

One revenue source for a new building— a share of the profits from Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway — has generated some $4.5 million, but that by itself won’t pay the bill.

And a previous bid to create a local-option sales tax for the cause failed, though perhaps that’s an idea worth revisiting.

Elsewhere on the legislative front, Sen. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, has drafted a bill that seeks to kick in up to $25 million in state money to the project. But that bill needs a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate just to get on a statewide ballot, then the only way it passes is if the vote is held on a Tuesday and everyone outside Penobscot County is told to vote on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s time to look slightly outside the box.

Obviously the Bangor Auditorium is much more than a basketball building. In fact, in the parlance of the $787.2 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus package recently signed into law — a new Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center conceivably could fall within a category of targeted need called “infrastructure.”

Look up infrastructure in the dictionary, and its definitions include the following: the basic facilities, equipment, services and installations needed for the growth and functioning of a country, community or organization.

Reads like a new Bangor Auditorium to me.

I’m sure the line already is long for stimulus money designated for infrastructure needs — mostly roads and bridges.

But an argument could be made that a new auditorium and civic center in Bangor has as much economic development value in these parts as any particular road save for Routes 1, 2, 9 and 95 — and the construction of such a building will bring good jobs to the area.

I’m not one prone to spending money that has yet to be printed, but since the federal government is doing it, it might as well be spent here.

While I don’t know where a new Bangor Auditorium would rank on a list of infrastructure needs in this part of Maine, there clearly is a need, and anyone who believes such money would be well spent this way should make their voices heard by those who will determine how the cash is spent.

In the meantime, I’m going to go watch a ballgame — and watch other dreams actually come true.

eclark@bangordailynews.net

990-8045

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