BANGOR, Maine — For months, the city of Bangor has debated plans for a new arena and civic center complex in Bass Park. Now, city councilors finally have a cost to wrap their heads around before making one of the biggest financial decisions in Bangor’s history.
Architect Don Dethlefs and representatives from Cianbro Corp., the project’s construction manager, presented the latest plans and cost projections — $70 million to $80 million — to the city Thursday.
Numerous civic and business leaders joined councilors inside their chamber at City Hall, eagerly anticipating details about what the greater community has speculated over ad nauseam.
The design plans outlined by Dethlefs included elements the city already has seen: a 5,800 fixed-seat arena, expandable to 8,050 seats for certain events; a new convention center on the existing auditorium footprint; a connecting meeting room building; and two sky bridges over Main Street and Dutton Street, respectively.
The financial projections, presented by Cianbro’s Tom Figura, were the real story.
The arena itself would cost $57 million. The convention center and its 19,000 square feet of space would add $14 million. The two bridges and the meeting building, which were deemed optional by Dethlefs, would cost about $8.5 million combined.
In all, the project would cost between $70 million and $80 million, including design costs, furniture and fixtures, and permits and licenses.
Cianbro Chairman Peter Vigue began the conversation addressing the possibility of a “hometown discount” that has been whispered about in some circles. First, he said his company would take a 2 percent fee. A traditional fee for a project such as this is 3.5 to 4 percent. He also said Cianbro would lower its contingency — the project’s fund for unexpected occurrences — from 8-10 percent down to 3 percent.
Cianbro also would donate its preconstruction services, which are valued at $175,000.
In short, Vigue said, contracting with Cianbro would save the city about $5.7 million.
After the presentation, city councilors were unanimous in their praise of both Dethlefs and Cianbro for their hard work to date, but they also acknowledged the gravity of the decision before them.
Rick Bronson called the price a “sticker shock.” Geoff Gratwick said Thursday’s revelations were “exciting but worrisome.”
Pat Blanchette assured the audience that the decision to build or not to build was not one the council would take lightly.
“It’s a scary step, but we’ll do what’s best for the citizens,” she said. “You elected us to make decisions, even though they may not always be popular.”
In recent weeks, there has been growing concern that some of the cost of the project ultimately will fall to taxpayers. The city’s revenue stream from Hollywood Slots likely would cover most but not all of what has been proposed. Michael Aube of Eastern Maine Development Corp. and a “friends group” of local business leaders led by Mark Woodward and Miles Theeman have been working to identify private sector support. The friends group also plans to release a private economic impact study Friday.
Resident Bob Cimbollek already has announced his plans to push for a citywide referendum vote on a new arena. He said he’s not against the project; he just doesn’t want taxpayers to subsidize its construction or operation.
City councilors long have stressed that they do not want to use taxpayer money, but they seemed to sense a growing restlessness Thursday. Cianbro’s construction schedule assumes a May 2011 groundbreaking, which means the city needs to make a decision in early January to ensure enough time for permitting. The longer the city waits, according to Cianbro’s project executive Norbert Young, the more the costs could increase.
Vigue also pointed out that the current economic climate is perfect for borrowing money.
Still, councilors remained uneasy, although Cary Weston — an admitted fiscal conservative — offered an interesting perspective. Every June, he said, the city council votes on a municipal budget totaling more than $85 million. Every June, the city essentially takes a leap of faith when adopting that budget.
“I don’t see this decision much different than that,” he said. “There are choices that dictate not who but what [the city] will become. This is one of them.”
Councilors will discuss the arena cost projections before next Monday’s regular council meeting and likely will schedule a workshop in the coming weeks, Chairwoman Susan Hawes said. Then, a decision will be made.
Resident Jerry Turner, one of a handful of audience members who spoke at Thursday’s meeting, summed up the collective mood of the room.
“It’s time to make a decision,” he said. “You have played with this toy long enough.”