April 22, 2018
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Council moves forward on arena issues

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Most issues that come before the Bangor City Council are resolved in one of three ways: The council unanimously supports or rejects an idea; the council, with one or two dissenters, supports or rejects an idea; or the nine-member council is narrowly divided with one swing vote tipping the balance.

That’s what makes the discussion around building a new arena and civic center so fascinating. On any given day, there are likely to be nine distinct opinions about what Bangor should or should not do.

On Monday night, Bangor took the latest step in a long process by hiring local firm Cianbro to oversee pre-construction management services and by hiring Colorado-based Sink, Combs and Dethlefs for architectural design services.

The two contracts combined are likely to cost the city more than $550,000, but there is some debate about what that money will be used for and whether the contracts bind Bangor to anything in the future.

“It binds the city to nothing other than what is spent,” Finance Director Debbie Cyr said Tuesday. “[These contracts] allow for the lowest level of design in order to establish firm cost estimates for construction.”

The contract with Cianbro is for $175,000, although that fee would be waived if the city decides to construct and retains Cianbro as general contractor.

The contract with Sink, Combs and Dethlefs could cost the city between $408,000 and $573,000 depending on what the city wants to include in the schematic design. The low range includes only the arena. If the city wants to include bridges over Main Street and Dutton Street and renovations to the existing auditorium, the price would increase.

Cyr said the money for both contracts would come from Bangor’s arena fund, which is the city’s share of proceeds from Hollywood Slots. That account stands at about $7.5 million. In addition, the city has contracted with Michael Aube of Eastern Maine Development Corporation to help secure additional funding sources.

Although the city has entered into two separate contracts, Cianbro and Sink, Combs and Dethlefs will work hand in hand throughout the schematic design stage.

“Cianbro will work in concert with the architect to determine constructability, identify alternative means and methods and decide on the best possible outcome for the overall goal,” Cyr said. “It could be as easy as offering different material choices to changing location of systems.”

Last summer, the city commissioned a market study to assess the Bangor area market and also outline the economic feasibility. That report led to a set of recommendations by the city’s arena committee, the centerpiece of which was construction of a 5,400-fixed-seat arena expandable to 7,400 seats, known as Phase I. The new arena would be built adjacent to the existing Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center.

The next recommendation, Phase II, would expand and renovate the existing auditorium and civic center into a variety of convention and meeting spaces.

Both phases have additional, optional elements, including a pedestrian sky-bridge over Main Street and improvements to nearby Paul Bunyan Park.

The market study estimated the total cost of Phases I and II at more than $70 million, but Cyr said those were rough estimates based on similar sized facilities built in recent years.

She said the schematic design would include only elements of Phase I.

The newly hired firms are expected to meet with city councilors next month to decide exactly how to proceed. If the last several months are any indication, there will be no shortage of ideas.

Gerry Palmer has been the biggest cheerleader for a new arena and would break ground tomorrow. David Nealley has pushed for the city to move forward because he believes there is interest in the private sector to lend financial support.

Hal Wheeler has been supportive of construction but has expressed concerns about the current operating loss weighing down the current auditorium and civic center. Geoff Gratwick also has budget concerns and has been advocating for a citywide voter referendum once the design phase is complete.

Councilor Cary Weston quietly has been trying to drum up support for what he calls the “Fenway Park” approach after the Boston Red Sox historic ballpark.

Instead of borrowing money to build a new facility from the ground up, Weston has suggested renovating different parts of the arena and civic center a piece at a time with money already saved.

Other councilors are quick to point out that the current Bangor Auditorium is not worth preserving as is Fenway Park.

Sink, Combs and Dethlefs intends to include the following in its final report:

– A colored site plan of the entire complex.

– Colored floor plans of each major level of the project including.

– Building and cross sections for the major components of the project.

– A design narrative describing the systems used in the building and the materials and finishes in the building.

– Scheduling information indicating how the projects can potentially be phased.

– Consulting with Cianbro on their cost and budget report.

The schematic design phase is expected to take 3-6 months, after which the city will be presented with specific costs associated with construction. By then, the debate could take an entirely new turn.

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