The Bangor Auditorium was transformed Wednesday night for the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner, a fancy to-do that attracted just over 1,000 people.
Rows of paper lanterns hung overhead, softly lighting the room and adding elegance to a space normally more suited to basketball tournaments. As the night progressed, the case was made repeatedly that the building that housed the celebration should be replaced.
“The time has come and we must build it now and we must build it right,” said Julia Munsey, 2011 chairwoman of the Chamber’s board of directors.
Both Munsey and Chamber President John Porter talked about the need for the business community to work with other constituents in the region to move it forward economically. Munsey noted that 100 years ago, Bangor was rebuilding itself after a fire that destroyed much of the downtown.
“Whether due to a devastating fire, a challenging economy or just the change inherent in life, a community must constantly come together and reinvent itself,” said Munsey.
Porter said the city has attractive qualities that include two riverfronts, a slots facility, a golf course and transportation links, but “we haven’t fully leveraged those assets.” A new arena and convention center that seats at least 1,500 people would tie it all together, Porter suggested.
“Opportunity is not going to seize us, we have to seize it,” said Porter.
The proposal for a new arena and convention center remains contentious in the community and appears headed for a referendum vote. A vote on a local issue early in the year likely won’t draw a big crowd to the polls, Porter said.
“I challenge everyone in this room to be active and help us make this case in coming months,” said Porter.
The dinner started with a short tribute to Kay Lebowitz, a well-known community member who died last April. It continued with a series of awards given to businesses and individuals for their work over the past year.
Among the award-winners recognized Wednesday:
ä Gary Smith of Brookings-Smith Funeral Homes was presented with the Chamber’s most prestigious honor, the Norbert X. Dowd Award, which recognizes a member of the business community whose commitment of time, resources and talent has made the Bangor region a better place to pursue one’s livelihood and dreams.
• Business of the Year, Oxford Networks.
• The Catherine Lebowitz Award for Public Service, former Gov. John Baldacci.
• Community Service Award, the Senior League World Series.
• Nonprofit of the Year, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
• Arthur A. Comstock Professional Service Award, John Diamond, formerly of the University of Maine System.
ä Bion and Dorain Foster Entrepreneurship Award, the Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series.
• Volunteer of the Year Award, Glenn Mower, Bangor Letter Shop.
• Fusion Leadership and Vision Award, KahBang, an annual music and arts festival on the Bangor Waterfront.
Alex Gray, who spearheaded the concert series, noted that when the idea was proposed, it was for a few shows, but the project soon grew.
“Bangor became a place to play — it was like playing home,” he said.
He said that the open space on the riverfront is a rarity in Maine and should be protected. He said he hoped the concert series would continue in the city for some time.
“In all reality we would like to stay here for years to come,” he said.
Tim Lo of KahBang said that the nine-day music, art and film festival was aimed at promoting arts, but really did more than that.
“We showcase artists at the beginning of their journey,” he said. “But more importantly, KahBang showcases Bangor.”