Study one step toward new arena

Posted March 04, 2009, at 9:35 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors and members of the arena implementation committee took another baby step Wednesday, directing Bangor City Manager Edward Barrett to once again seek proposals for an updated arena market and sizing study.

The focus of a new study has narrowed to the overall goal of outlining the most financially feasible alternative that best meets the community’s needs for a large event and meeting facility. Basically, that means the study will identify a size that best fits the Bangor market, figure out how much that will cost and work down from there, Barrett explained.

But Wednesday’s decision was not without significant debate, something that has become almost commonplace during recent discussions involving a new arena.

The most recent debate focused on just how regional a new facility aims to be and whether other revenue sources will emerge to augment the city’s only identified funding source, Hollywood Slots.

“We’ve fallen into the trap before that someone is going to come in and save us,” Barrett said.

Responding to the city manager, councilor Rick Bronson said, “I’m sold that there is no other money coming. If we could just convince four other councilors of that.”

Council Chairman Gerry Palmer, perhaps the most optimistic about other potential funding sources, said that’s less relevant than soliciting input from regional entities that stand to benefit from a new arena.

“They should be at the table whether they come with money or not,” Palmer said.

Peter Baldacci, a Penobscot County commissioner and member of the arena implementation committee, agreed and cautioned against any comments that suggested the project was solely Bangor’s responsibility.

“I don’t want the impression that somehow other communities are unsupportive,” he said, pointing out that 75 percent of slots revenue, which will fund a new arena, comes from outside Bangor.

A comprehensive memo from Barrett outlined a mission statement for a new arena and identified the most important questions the city hopes a new study will answer. They are:

ä What is the maximum capital investment the city can make with reasonable assurance that future debt service will be covered by nonproperty tax revenues?

ä What percentage of the market can be served by facilities of various sizes?

ä What size operating subsidy will such facilities require?

ä Is renovating and expanding the existing facilities a feasible option or can new facilities be phased in over time in a way to meet market demand within the city’s fiscal capabilities?

Furthermore, the market study will look at a historical analysis based on the existing auditorium, socioeconomic and demographic data, competing facilities and the feasibility of including retail and-or commercial space.

The arena committee had presented the recommendation last month for councilors to move forward with a new market study. Instead, councilors voted to delay it indefinitely, only to come back two weeks later and change their position.

That sequence of events created some animosity among councilors and members of the arena committee, which was created to advise the council. Councilor Hal Wheeler admitted that he and other councilors shared the blame for any bruised feelings among arena committee members and he hoped that everyone could move for-ward amicably.

The meeting ended on a positive note.

“I really think we may be surprised with what comes back [from the study],” said Kerrie Tripp, director of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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