EMDC to help Bangor on arena

Posted March 08, 2010, at 9:29 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Eastern Maine Development Corp. has extended an offer to the city to help secure funding to subsidize construction of a new arena.

EMDC President Michael Aube, who was approached recently by City Council Chairman Richard Stone about a potential collaboration, presented a proposal to the city’s finance committee on Monday. The plan calls for a 24-month contract between EMDC and the city under which Bangor would pay $10,000 annually, up to $1,000 a month in associated expenses and 3 percent of any funding secured by EMDC.

Finance committee members approved the idea, but it still needs full council approval, and that may not come easily. Councilor Pat Blanchette said bringing an outside entity such as EMDC into the mix was an insult to the city’s own economic development department.

“We haven’t even given them a shot yet,” she said, adding that she wasn’t entirely impressed with EMDC’s track record so far.

Stone, however, said EMDC is in a unique position to provide the city with a regional perspective that could open up funding sources that Bangor may not know about.

City councilors are in the process of deciding whether to move forward on plans for a 5,400-fixed-seat arena, expandable to 7,400 seats. A citizen-led arena implementation committee approved a series of recommendations in December that were based on the results of a market study conducted last summer. Those recommenda-tions included a new arena, followed by renovations to the existing auditorium and civic center, as well as a host of optional items that could be included in the project.

Late last month, the City Council approved the arena committee’s recommendations with the understanding that many details could change based on available funding. The next step is selecting an architect and, potentially, a construction manager.

The cost of a new arena, estimated at $50 million or more, remains the major hiccup among city councilors who want to move forward. So far, $7 million has been set aside in Bangor’s share of proceeds from Hollywood Slots, but some councilors are not sure that’s enough. The most recent projections from Bangor Finance Di-rector Debbie Cyr suggest that if the city borrows $50 million over 20 years, the annual payment would be about $4 million. The best estimates for annual slots revenue to the city over the next 20 years is $2.5 million.

Aube, a former Bangor councilor, said that’s where his organization could come in. EMDC is a six-county regional economic development entity that has access to a wide range of federal and state grant opportunities. Aube said the first step would be to address the true funding gap, but he urged the council not to waver on its plans for a new arena.

“If we go to the feds or the state for funding, we better be sure,” he said.

The City Council will vote on EMDC’s proposal at its March 22 meeting.

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