Bob Cimbollek made the announcement Wednesday afternoon in Bass Park beside a sign erected last year by councilors that reads, “Future site of new arena complex.”
“I’ve waited long enough. This referendum should have gone forward before the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Cimbollek said, referring to the city’s contract for design services. “They should have found out if taxpayers were willing to support an arena if their taxes were going to be raised.”
Not only does he want the voters to decide, but Cimbollek said he also is planning petitions to recall any councilor who votes in favor of the arena proposal without letting residents have a say.
A referendum petition needs to be certified by the Bangor city clerk and have the language approved by the solicitor’s office. Once a petition is certified, Cimbollek has 30 business days to collect 2,236 signatures, or 20 percent of turnout for the most recent gubernatorial election. If he collects enough signatures, the city would schedule a referendum vote.
City councilors plan to meet Thursday with architect Don Dethlefs and construction project manager Norbert Young of Cianbro Corp. to learn the cost of a proposed 5,800-fixed seat arena expandable to 8,050. The city has spent several years discussing options for replacing the 55-year-old Bangor Auditorium.
So far, the only funding source for a new arena is the city’s share of proceeds from Hollywood Slots. The city now has about $10 million and expects to generate between $2.5 million and $3 million annually.
Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes has said the council is not necessarily opposed to letting Bangor residents weigh in on the arena, but she said it’s still premature.
“We’re going to have to move on this one way or the other relatively soon,” Hawes said recently. “The sense of the council right now is, let’s hear what they have to offer.”
Meanwhile, Eastern Maine Development Corp. President Michael Aube is working with the city to identify other funding sources. Also, a prominent group of Bangor-area business leaders led by Miles Theeman and former Bangor Daily News editor Mark Woodward has formed a “Friends of the Arena” group that has commis-sioned a soon-to-be-released economic impact study.
Cimbollek, who lives on Howard Street, was involved in Bangor’s last successful petition in 2008, during which voters overturned a council decision banning left-hand turns from State Street onto Howard Street. He said the council has continually gone against residents’ wishes and ignored last year’s market study, which he said proved a new arena was not feasible.
“If they really wanted voter input, they would have [put it out to referendum] a long time ago,” Cimbollek said. “Some have said they would consider a nonbinding vote, but what good would that do? They have the power to approve the largest project in the city’s history.”
Councilors continually have said that they would not support a construction project that relied on taxpayer support.
Cimbollek, who actually served on a city arena committee in the 1990s, said he’d rather see the existing facility renovated.
“We’ve already got $10 million. Let’s see what that gets us,” he said. “The existing building is perfectly safe. The proposal is a field of dreams.”
Another arena critic, Steve Sleeper, has joined Cimbollek in the petition effort. Sleeper has created a website, www.bangorarena.com, that alleges: “The Bangor City Council has started the largest construction project in [Bangor’s] history. They have spent taxpayer money hiring consultants, engineers, architects and contractors without a full vetting and approval by the taxpayers.”