Friends group ready to sell arena aggressively to Bangor voters

Julia Munsey (left) the chairwoman of the board of directors of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce speaks during the kick-off event of the Arena Yes campain at the Bangor Auditorium on Thursday.
Julia Munsey (left) the chairwoman of the board of directors of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce speaks during the kick-off event of the Arena Yes campain at the Bangor Auditorium on Thursday.
Posted March 03, 2011, at 6:08 p.m.
Last modified March 04, 2011, at 5:41 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A prominent group of civic leaders announced Thursday the creation of an “Arena Yes” campaign, whose members will spend the next eight weeks trying to convince Bangor voters that a new arena is crucial to the city’s economic future.

The group of business leaders wasted no time forming their committee, making the announcement about 13 hours after the Bangor City Council set a date of May 4 for a citywide vote.

“I can’t imagine a project that would do more for the people of Bangor and for our economy than this one,” said Miles Theeman, president of Affiliated Healthcare Services and a co-chairman of the campaign.

The “Arena Yes” campaign so far is composed of well-known business leaders such as Carol Epstein, James Gerety, Jack Quirk and John Simpson and organizations including Bangor Savings Bank, Sargent Corp. and Webber Energy Fuels.

Theeman and others involved in the campaign said voter turnout will be the biggest deciding factor come May.

“We know there is support out there for this project. We just need to get them to the polls,” he said.

City councilors are united in their support for the $65 million proposed arena and convention center complex to replace the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center.

A group of opponents successfully gathered enough signatures to force a citywide referendum, and councilors held a public hearing on Wednesday to set that date.

Although some criticized the council for setting a special election that would cost additional money, councilors said they would support taking that money from the arena fund, which is supplied by proceeds from Hollywood Slots.

A no campaign has not been formally announced, but petitioners Ken Wicks, Bob Cimbollek, Steve Sleeper and others have been leading the charge against building a new arena. Their main argument is that the city cannot guarantee that taxpayers will not be on the hook for the project’s cost.

“We’re not an organized group like them; we have no money,” Cimbollek said Thursday. “We’re just a bunch of concerned citizens hoping to inform others.”

Councilors, citing conservative projections from finance director Debbie Cyr, said they are more than comfortable that the project can be fully funded by Hollywood Slots proceeds and by money from the downtown tax increment financing district.

The “Arena Yes” campaign members said Thursday that they are concerned about misinformation being spread by the opposition. They plan to post information and answer questions on their new web site, www.arenayes.com.

In the coming days, the campaign plans to build a coalition of volunteers who are willing to go door to door in neighborhoods across Bangor to spread the message.

“We believe that, once the people of Bangor understand the facts, they’ll vote overwhelmingly to move ahead with this project,” said Mark Woodward, former executive editor of the Bangor Daily News and the campaign’s other co-chairman.

The “Arena Yes” campaign is counting on support from Bangor’s growing community of young professionals, including Fusion:Bangor.

“These are people that don’t always vote in off-year or special elections, but they could be the difference,” Theeman said.

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