Bangor panel approves plans for major new arena

Posted Dec. 03, 2009, at 10:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — In decisive and unanimous fashion, members of the city’s arena implementation committee on Thursday approved a series of recommendations to embark immediately on the largest construction project Bangor has ever seen.

The only step that remains is approval by the City Council, which will discuss the recommendations later this month or early in January and then take action.

“I want to publicly thank the arena committee for all the work it’s done,” City Council Chairman Richard Stone said after Thursday’s 90-minute meeting. “You’ll be proud. We’re going to get this done.”

The arena committee, composed of Bangor leaders from a variety of interest groups, sent forward a total of 15 recommendations, the biggest of which was approving construction of a 5,400 fixed-seat arena, expandable to 7,400 seats. Coincidentally, that was the centerpiece of Phase I in a lengthy market report compiled by design and marketing firms the city hired earlier this year.

Bangor Arena

Not far behind was the arena committee’s recommendation to move forward as soon as financially feasible on Phase II of the firms’ proposal, which would renovate the existing auditorium and civic center into a variety of conference spaces. Committee members stressed that the only sustainable revenue from this project is going to come from Phase II rather than Phase I. The total cost of the two phases has been estimated at $73 million.

The end is almost within reach on a process that goes back nearly a decade, when the city first realized it needed to replace the aging Bangor Auditorium.

“This is the meeting we’ve all been waiting for,” said Councilor Susan Hawes, who took on the daunting task of chairing the arena implementation committee and bringing nearly two dozen personalities in line toward the same goal.

Committee members have been debating for several months the particulars of a new auditorium and civic center based on the recommendations from ERA-AECOM and Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects, the firms that conducted the $75,000 market study.

On Thursday, there was little debating left to do. Each member agreed and seemed more than ready to pull the trigger.

The committee was so impressed with Don Dethlefs of Sink Combs Dethlefs that it included in its recommendations that the city retain his firm to design the project.

Other recommendations that were sent forward Thursday include:

• The city should involve potential facility management firms during the project’s design phase.

• The city should consider using what is known as a construction manager at-risk system that would include a guaranteed maximum price.

• The city should consider deferring some elements of Phase I, such pedestrian sky-bridges over Main and Dutton streets, in order to ensure that Phase II is done sooner than later.

• The city should continue pursuing other funding sources in addition to the sole identified revenue from Hollywood Slots. Along those lines, the city should designate a portion of annual revenue (up to $500,000) from its downtown tax increment financing fund to use toward project costs and-or debt service requirements. Interestingly enough, Hollywood Slots contributed the biggest share to the downtown TIF.

• The city should begin the process of selecting a private management firm to operate the facility when it’s finished and should establish an advisory board to ensure that any private firm is held accountable.

The final conclusion from Thursday’s meeting involved suggesting a timeline that specifies that the groundbreaking for Phase I will take place no later than summer 2011.

City Finance Director Debbie Cyr said the latest financial projections based on what Bangor has received in Hollywood Slots revenue suggests that the city could reasonably borrow $46 million over 20 years if the project broke ground in 2011. If the city considers a 25-year bond, it could increase that to $52 million and, at 30 years, the city could receive $57 million.

Although borrowing over a longer period of time would incur more interest to the city in the long run, the committee said the city should keep all options open because of the project’s importance.

Besides, the financial projections remain fluid, as do the projected costs of a new arena and a renovated-update civic center. Many are hopeful that the current economic climate will generate competitive construction bids and save the city as much as 15 percent on the total cost.

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