Auditorium Aim

Posted Aug. 28, 2009, at 5:49 p.m.

Bangor city officials are wisely digesting the recommendations presented to them on how they should build a new auditorium and civic center.

With an investment estimated at $50 million or more, the stakes are high. But so is the potential. Maximizing the economic and cultural synergy that could follow the construction of a new facility should guide their decisions, not an idealized view of Bangor.

It’s often jarring — and sometimes disconcerting — to see one’s hometown through the eyes of outsiders. But that is why the city hired two outside firms to assess the market potential and feasibility of building a new auditorium and civic center. The splash of cold water was that Bangor will not be able to draw the musical acts that make their way to Portland. But the other side of that coin, according to the consultants, is that Bangor is missing opportunities because of its outdated facility.

The consultants recommend the city build a three-story, 5,000-seat, U-shaped arena into the hill behind the Paul Bunyan statue (at a cost of about $51 million). The next phase would be to tear down the suspended wings of the existing auditorium and renovate that structure to house conference and meeting space (at a cost of about $16 million).

Having this concept design on the table is enormously helpful to the planning and implementation process. For one thing, it gives the community an idea to debate. Just as prospective home buyers are able to focus on what they want by seeing houses that they don’t like, this concept will sharpen the community’s vision for a new facility, even if the final product is different.

Yet at the same time, this concept must be seen as the leading contender, because city officials should defer — for now, anyway — to the wisdom of the consultants, who have seen other facilities and understand the demographic dynamics that affect how they function.

Rather than construct an auditorium that aims to be able to accommodate all sorts of events — from basketball games to Ice Capades — the 5,000-seat venue will be able to draw midmarket acts that are bypassing the city. While that part of the facility will dominate the landscape, the rooms that can host conferences, seminars, trade shows and perhaps weddings will have an even more substantive impact on the local economy.

Bangor deserves to have such amenities. City officials are on the right track investigating the options. Sooner, rather than later, is the time to contract for construction of a new facility. When the economy improves, the bidding climate will be less favorable. And when the economy improves, the city must be ready to reap the benefits such a facility will bring.

“You’ve given us a lot to chew on,” City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer told the consultants. True, but city officials can’t linger too long at the table — or order a different entree.

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