On Wednesday, May 4, the citizens of Bangor will be offered an unusual opportunity. The May 4 referendum to build a new arena and convention center offers a path of progress that will enhance our local economy and restore our community pride, and with no increase in local property taxes.
The two of us have deep affection for the old auditorium, and understand what it once meant to the people of Bangor. We also have personal connections to the Bangor Auditorium. One of us was a member of one of the first Bangor High School basketball teams to play there and the other was a member of the Bangor Jaycees, responsible for all the ushering for events there under a contract with the city.
As much as we cherish our memories and the history of the building, we feel strongly that now is the time to replace the auditorium and the civic center. The new facility proposed for Bass Park will be good for our economy, and the message the new project will send to the rest of Maine and New England will help restore the confidence and spirit of our fine city.
Once a source of community pride and revenue, the Bangor Auditorium has seriously deteriorated and is overdue for replacement; the city is continually confronted with maintenance and accessibility issues. The Bangor Civic Center is likewise tired and inadequate; it simply does not meet the current demand for meeting space, break-out rooms for presentations, and banquet facilities for businesses and conventions.
The records of our Convention and Visitors Bureau reflect that over the past three years, at least 30 different groups and users opted not to come to Bangor, largely because of the inadequacy of these facilities. Yet even as revenues generated by these facilities dwindle, the cost to maintain these facilities continues to rise, costing Bangor taxpayers approximately $400,000 per year. This is a trend that cannot continue.
In 2003, Bangor voters twice approved gaming in our community with the understanding that the proceeds to the city would be used to replace the existing auditorium and civic center. We all knew what we were voting on and for. The referendum questions both passed, and for the past five years we have had a new business in Bangor that pays more than $1.5 million a year in property taxes and puts another $2.5 million a year in our account for a down payment on a new arena and convention center. That account now provides a down payment fund of approximately $8 million.
The Bangor City Council has invested hundreds of hours with citizens, architects and contractors exploring the concept of a new arena and convention center. We now have a design that will bring new life and new business into our community. If we ever wondered about our ability to draw crowds to Bangor, we need only look to the popularity of the American Folk Festival and the waterfront concert series.
Bangor already has much to offer — an international airport, a 27-hole golf course, a racino connected to a waterfront that hosts concerts and festivals and a downtown with museums, shops and services. Building a new arena and convention center now will again set us above and beyond other venues in New England.
A study commissioned by the arena friends group projected that, once built, this facility will generate $26 million per year in new spending in Greater Bangor, with half of that money spent right here in Bangor. In addition, 400 new permanent jobs will be created. Constructing the new arena and convention center will generate 1,500 construction jobs for more than two years, with half those jobs employing people within a 35-mile radius of Bangor.
The City Council is holding firm to a $65 million price tag. While that sounds like a significant number, consider this: By the time this project is fully bonded, the city will have at least $9 million in the down-payment account. With a portion of the Tax Increment Financing funds from the downtown TIF district, paid almost exclusively by the racino owner, and the funds that come to the city each year from wagering at the racino, the city can pay to bond this project with no increase in the property tax rate. Meanwhile, the new complex has the potential to bring additional jobs and revenue to Main Street and the city generally.
This project will simultaneously replace what has become a time-worn and inadequate complex with a first-rate facility, generate new business for Bangor and infuse Bangor with a spirit of hope and opportunity. We urge our fellow citizens to join us and vote “Yes” on the arena and convention center project on May 4.
David Carlisle is chairman of the Prentiss and Carlisle companies. Clifton Eames is chairman of N.H. Bragg and Sons. Both are former chairmen of the Bangor Savings Bank of board of directors.