Arena friends group to host meeting

Posted Nov. 22, 2010, at 10:28 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Members of the newly formed Friends of the Maine Center want to hear from the public about plans for a new arena complex in Bangor to ensure that the project is done right.

Mark Woodward, co­chairman of the group and former executive editor of the Bangor Daily News, said the city has built inadequate facilities twice in the past — in 1897, when the first auditorium was built, and in 1955, when the current facility opened.

He and other business and community leaders don’t want to see that happen again, but they also want to see a new arena built soon.

“The current auditorium is more than a half-century old, and it was obsolete on the day it opened,” Woodward said. “If we move quickly, we will have the opportunity to give Bangor a facility that will meet the needs of the community for generations, grow the city’s tax base and boost our economy.”

The group has created a website, www.themainecenter.com, to solicit feedback and also will host a public input session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bangor Civic Center. Representatives from the project’s architect and Cianbro, the construction manager, will be present.

The group also met briefly Monday night with city councilors and with Michael Aube of Eastern Maine Development Corp., who has been contracted by the city to help raise private funds. A more comprehensive discussion of the project’s cost and the city’s financing options is expected next week, City Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes said.

Last Friday, the Friends of the Maine Center held an event to release an economic impact study that estimated a new arena and civic center would generate $26 million in local revenue annually and would create 405 full­time jobs.

“We have a unique opportunity to put the city’s share of revenues from the Hollywood Slots casino to use in a way that will not only provide Bangor with a first­class facility, but improve the fiscal health of the city by expanding its tax base,” said Miles Theeman, also a co­chairman of the group and president and CEO of Affiliated Healthcare Systems of Bangor.

City councilors met last week with architect Don Dethlefs and members of Cianbro, the project’s construction manager, to learn the price tag of a new arena and civic center. For just the arena, it would cost the city $57 million. A new convention center, built on the footprint of the existing auditorium, would cost another $14 million. Additional amenities — two sky bridges over Main Street and Dutton Street and a meeting building — would bring the total cost to approximately $80 million.

The high cost has been the biggest challenge for the city. So far, the only revenue source is Bangor’s share of proceeds from Hollywood Slots. That pot of money currently totals about $10 million and is projected to generate between $2.5 million and $3 million annually.

Most city and business leaders agree that slots revenue alone won’t cover the cost, but Theeman and Woodward said they are confident of private sector support. They also believe that the current economic climate makes this the best time for the city to borrow money. Any delay could add millions to the project.

At last week’s meeting with the council, representatives from Cianbro told councilors that the project would take 32 months, assuming that ground is broken in May 2011. In order to ensure the construction’s aggressive timeline, the city needs to make a decision by January 2011.

Meanwhile, a group of Bangor residents led by Bob Cimbollek has pledged to initiate a petition drive to put the final decision out to voters. Their effort could push back the project’s timeline.

Others, however, feel the public already has made its feelings known.

“In 2003, the voters of Bangor approved the development of Hollywood Slots with the explicit understanding that the city’s revenues from that venture would help pay for a new event and convention center,” said Woodward. “Now is the time for the City Council to fulfill that promise and invest in the community’s future. That’s why we say, build it now, build it right.”

Editor’s Note: Bangor Daily News publisher Richard Warren is a member of Friends of the Maine Center.

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