BANGOR, Maine — City councilors on Thursday sent their newly hired architect and construction manager off with the task of designing and pricing a 7,400-seat capacity arena to replace the half-century-old Bangor Auditorium.
The Colorado-based architect firm Sink Combs and Dethlefs will work hand in hand with Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield to formalize a plan similar to what was proposed out of last year’s market study. It will include a U-shaped arena adjacent to the existing auditorium as well as new conference space and pedestrian bridges over both Dutton Street and Main Street to Hollywood Slots.
The schematic design is expected to come back to the City Council by mid-October, at which time the city will have firm cost estimates and can decide whether to put shovels in the ground or walk away.
Thursday’s arena workshop was the first opportunity for councilors to sit down with Don Dethlefs, the chief architect, and Norbert Young, the construction manager from Cianbro, who were officially hired last month. The discussion mirrored many others that have taken place in the last year since the city commissioned a study that examined the need and feasibility of a new arena and civic center.
Councilors talked about the size, about whether to include ice and about whether the pedestrian bridges were necessities or luxuries. In the end, city officials recognized that commissioning a schematic design that has a few different options does not bind Bangor to anything.
Addressing the proposed size, which calls for 5,400 fixed seats, expandable to 7,400 seats for most events, Dethlefs said the quality of the seats is more important than quantity. Bass Park Director Mike Dyer, who manages the current auditorium, agreed that anything bigger than 7,400 seats would put the facility in no-man’s land.
“Ninety-five percent of shows that approach us would be accommodated with what’s proposed,” he said.
Councilor Susan Hawes pointed out that the arena implementation committee, which late last year made a series of recommendations to the council about a new arena, already concluded that 7,400 seats was enough.
The discussion over whether to include ice capabilities came down to money. Should the city spend approximately $1.5 million to allow for ice if a new arena would barely use it? Dethlefs said another option is a portable ice mat that could be put down and taken up as needed. Councilors wanted to see all options but agreed that permanent ice was probably not a good idea.
Councilors generally agreed that the pedestrian bridges were beneficial to the project. Dethlefs said the bridge over Main Street could act as a gateway into the city and could provide opportunities for cross-business between an arena and Hollywood Slots.
“It will need to look nice, not just utilitarian,” he said.
Dethlefs also said that bridge could include a two-story building, at virtually no additional cost, that could house the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau or other businesses.
Funding for a new arena generated the least discussion on Thursday, but it has been well-covered ground. Initial estimates from the market study suggested that the proposed arena would cost at least $45 million to $50 million and that a revamped civic center could add at least another $12 million to $15 million. When Dethlefs and Young come back to the city in October, they will be able to give more precise costs, although Dethlefs said this is a once-in-a-lifetime economic climate.
Cianbro will receive $175,000 for its role in the design process, but that total will be rolled into the total cost if the city decides to build. Sink Combs and Dethlefs will receive $400,000 to $500,000 for schematic design services.
To pay for a new arena, the city has about $7.5 million in the bank from Hollywood Slots proceeds and expects to borrow the rest and pay it back through future slots revenue. Additionally, the city has contracted with Eastern Maine Development Corp. to help secure grant funding or private investments.
Some Bangor residents, including Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, have advocated for a citywide referendum once the schematic design is complete. The city already voted several years ago to dedicate Bangor’s Hollywood Slots proceeds to fund a new arena.