Bangor arena plan keeps growing

Posted Aug. 31, 2010, at 8:50 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Every time architect Don Dethlefs and his staff come up with a new sketch design for a new arena, city councilors seem a little more impressed.

The latest design, unveiled on Tuesday night, expands the number of fixed seats to 5,800 and bumps the maximum capacity with general admission seating to 8,050.

Dethlefs’ plans also would demolish the existing civic center rather than renovate the space and build new meeting space in a building that would connect to a new arena and, potentially, a sky bridge over Main Street. The existing auditorium would be retained as convention space.

Councilors swooned over the proposed building’s brick facade, large-pane windows and landscaping details, but some had a familiar hesitation in their voices.

“It’s wonderful. It’s the kind of thing you drool over,” Councilor Geoff Gratwick said. “I just wish we had flush times.”

Added Councilor Rick Bronson: “I thought the first drawings you brought us were excellent and every time you come back, it gets better. One fear I have is that each time it gets better, the costs go up.”

Dethlefs, the Colorado-based architect the city hired to come up with plans to replace the Bangor Auditorium, said he would finish the design by Oct. 1 and turn the plans over to Cianbro Corp., the construction manager. Cianbro then would bring those plans to subcontractors to determine exactly what a new facility would cost. Those cost projections are expected to be delivered back to the council in mid-November, at which point city leaders will have to make a big decision.

The latest cost estimates from Dethlefs suggest that it would cost the city approximately $75 million to build everything that has been proposed, including the meeting space building, the sky bridge and other amenities. The arena itself is projected to cost about $50 million.

“The biggest piece will always be the arena,” Dethlefs said. “If you can get that built first, you could add any of the other pieces later.”

Cost always has been the sticking point among city councilors, although momentum has been building recently about potential funding opportunities for a new arena. The city has more than $8 million saved from its proceeds as host city for Hollywood Slots and can reasonably expect to earn between $2 million and $3 million each year from that source. Michael Aube of Eastern Maine Development Corp. has been working on the city’s behalf to explore other funding sources and told councilors last week that there is plenty of interest in the region.

Aube and many other community leaders attended Tuesday’s council workshop to hear the latest from Dethlefs and his team.

Kerrie Tripp, director of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the only question she had is, “When can I start selling this new arena as a potential draw?”

Some Bangor residents and at least two councilors have advocated for a citywide referendum once the schematic design is complete, although it’s unlikely that could happen by the November election. The city already voted several years ago when Hollywood Slots was built that it would dedicate Bangor’s proceeds to fund a new arena.

Graphic courtesy of Sink Combs Dethlefs

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