May 4 set for referendum vote on proposed Bangor arena complex

Posted March 02, 2011, at 11:21 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Because of a technicality, the Bangor City Council could have voted Wednesday to bypass a citywide vote on a proposed arena complex and simply approved construction.

Despite the temptation, the council did not take that vote.

Instead, councilors set a date of May 4 for a citywide election to decide once and for all whether Bangor will build a new arena and civic center.

Petitioners who gathered the signatures needed to force a citywide vote had control over how the order, and ultimately the question, would be written. Under city charter, because that order was written in the affirmative and technically authorized construction, the council could simply have adopted it Wednesday.

But councilors concluded that the intent of the petitioners was to let the voters decide, and now they will.

Before the vote, Councilor Cary Weston thanked both proponents and opponents for a thoughtful and civil discussion about the controversial $65 million construction project, particularly in light of an ugly public hearing Tuesday in nearby Hampden.

Supporters and critics offered a glimpse of their respective cases Wednesday, touching on topics that have been well-covered at previous meetings.

Supporters applauded councilors for uniting on the project as a catalyst for future growth and economic development in Bangor. Critics said the council is relying on a gambling facility to pay for the project’s costs and counting on taxpayers to co-sign the loan.

The city has spent several years debating options for replacing the existing Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center. After other ideas failed, Hollywood Slots was built across the street from Bass Park, providing the city with a revenue stream that it never had.

Fast forward to today and voters will be asked to support or nix a $65 million project designed by Colorado architect Don Dethlefs that would be built by Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield. The project includes a 5,800-fixed-seat arena (with a maximum capacity of 8,050) and an adjacent multiuse convention center.

With proceeds from Hollywood Slots and a portion of the city’s downtown tax increment financing district, construction could be completed without taxpayer support, according to the city’s projections.

Resident Chris Rudolph, who moved to Bangor 11 years ago from Boston and is raising a family here, said a new arena could change the way the entire state views the Queen City.

Opponents, however, said there is no guarantee from Hollywood Slots that revenues will remain steady and no backup plan from the city if that revenue stream changes.

Bob Cimbollek, one of the project’s most vocal critics and one of the lead petitioners, said the city should scrap a new arena and renovate the existing facility instead.

Between now and May 4, both sides are expected to make their case to prospective voters.

The Friends of the Maine Center, a group of business leaders who are backing the project, plan to make an announcement Thursday about how they plan to energize and educate voters.

Resident Steve Ribble cautioned opponents against spreading false and misleading statements or running a fear-based campaign.

“They will make it seem like we have to choose between an arena and funding our schools,” Ribble said. “But we can have both.”

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