BANGOR, Maine – City councilors at a special meeting Monday voted to move forward with the next step of a proposed arena complex by contracting with its chosen architect for design development services.
Councilors also put to bed any notion that they would schedule their own public referendum vote on the arena to offset a citizens’ initiative that is under way.
“I trust the process,” Councilor Gerry Palmer said. “If the [petition] is successful, it will go to a vote. If it’s not, it won’t. Either way, it says a lot about our community.”
The latest vote commits the city to spend $800,000 for detailed engineering and architectural plans, but it does not authorize construction of the proposed 5,800-seat arena (expandable to 8,050) and adjoining convention center.
The next vote likely would be scheduled sometime in late January when the council knows whether the citizens’ referendum is successful. Petitioner Bob Cimbollek and a small group of opponents have until Jan. 14 to gather the 2,236 signatures needed to force a citywide vote on whether to build an arena.
Last week, councilors worked with architect Don Dethlefs and construction manager Cianbro Corp. to alter the initial design plans to bring the overall cost down to about $65 million. They did so in large part by moving a scaled-down convention center closer to Main Street. They did so because they heard from the public that $80 million was too expensive.
Councilors were emphatic and unanimous on Monday that the project before them now is financially sound.
Rick Bronson said the council was making a decision to reinvest in the community and is doing so only after exhaustive discussion.
“I don’t know how much more you can ask of us,” he said.
David Nealley said the onus is on he and his colleagues to sell to the public that this project is good for the city.
Still, opponents raised their concerns Monday, as they have for the last several weeks, mostly related to project costs and the revenue streams set aside to pay for the arena complex.
But there were just as many supporters who praised councilors for making hard decisions.
Based on projections from the main funding source, the city’s proceeds from Hollywood Slots, Bangor could afford a $54 million project using that source alone. The city so far has collected about $10 million from the racino and expects to collect between $2.5 million and $3 million annually over the next three decades.
Other funding sources, including appropriating money from Bangor’s downtown tax increment financing district funds, also have emerged. Additionally, a friends group of local business and civic leaders has formed to solicit private sector donations once the project is green-lighted.
Councilors are confident that the project can move forward without a financial commitment from the taxpayers of Bangor. They are hopeful residents understand that whether a referendum is successful or not.
“I’m scared to death of the erroneous information that will get thrown out if this goes to referendum,” Councilor Pat Blanchette said. “You have to believe that the council is working for you, not against you.”
Added Cary Weston: “Let’s leave emotion out of the conversation. If I make a decision on emotion, I’m not doing my job.”