Plan for arena in Bangor calls for 5,000 seats

Posted Aug. 21, 2009, at 8:50 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Market analysts have recommended that the city build a 5,000-seat, U-shaped arena adjacent to the existing Bangor Auditorium and then renovate existing facilities to provide Bangor with ample space for a wide array of event options.

David Stone of ERA/AECOM and Don Dethlefs of Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects, who were hired to assess the market and feasibility for a new arena, outlined their recommendations Friday to city councilors and arena implementation committee members.

A three-story, 160,000-square-foot arena would be built into the sloped hill behind the Paul Bunyan statue. It would house the traditional 85 feet by 200 feet of floor space and include an updated lobby — all for an estimated cost of $51 million. Stone and Dethlefs further recommended that Bangor renovate the existing auditorium and civic center in phases to provide numerous event options. Those renovation costs would total about $18 million.

Additional suggestions included a pedestrian sky bridge over Main Street connecting a new facility to the parking garage at Hollywood Slots, a similar bridge over Dutton Street connecting to the parking area at Bass Park, and other minor improvements to the site. Each add-on carried its own price tag.

City leaders seemed impressed, although perhaps a bit dizzy with all the information presented Friday.

“You’ve given us a lot to chew on,” City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said.

Councilor David Nealley appreciated the outline of what the city absolutely needs to do and what might be added on as a sort of wish list.

Stone and Dethlefs fielded questions after their two-hour presentation on Friday and then directed the city to narrow down even further what it wants. The city’s arena implementation committee, made up of city councilors and community leaders, will meet in early September and come back to the market firms with more con-crete plans.

One of the things Dethlefs stressed after he outlined the cost associated with each element of the project was that if the city acts sooner rather than later, it could save 15 percent or more. For a project of this size, that’s several million dollars.

So far, though, the city has not moved fast on replacing its decades-old auditorium. The idea first came up about 10 years ago and the city commissioned its first study in 2002, but those plans never moved forward. Even earlier this year, city leaders went back and forth about whether the time was right to commission a new study.

Funding sources also are still up for debate. The only identified source of funding for a new auditorium is the city’s revenue from hosting Hollywood Slots, which finance director Debbie Cyr reported was at about $5.6 million as of June 30.

Nealley, for one, said he’s optimistic that the city and the region will be able to tap into private funding, at least for parts of the project. He suggested, for instance, that Hollywood Slots subsidize a bridge over Main Street since the racino would benefit from the increased traffic. General Manager Jon Johnson was not opposed to the idea.

Another conclusion from Stone: Bangor never will draw crowds like Boston or even Portland, but the city is losing out on business because of the limitations of its existing facility. He said he spent several weeks interviewing stakeholders in the area and said he heard overwhelming support for a new facility.

Stone also heard support for skyboxes or suites inside a new arena.

Because Bangor does not have an anchor tenant such as a professional sports team for a new facility, Stone and Dethlefs agreed that building an arena for sporting events and concerts and then updating existing space for conventions and other gatherings was the best option.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

990-8167

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