BANGOR, Maine — City voters are set to decide the fate of a proposed $65 million arena and convention center, the largest and most expensive public construction project in Bangor’s history.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Wednesday at the Bangor Civic Center and close at 8 p.m.
The single-question ballot will read: “Shall the City Council of the City of Bangor adopt the following order, which will authorize construction of a new arena at Bass Park, Bangor, Maine?” — followed by the text of the order itself.
A “Yes” vote means the city will move forward with construction. A “No” vote means the city cannot revisit arena plans for at least three years.
Bangor leaders have been discussing options for replacing the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center for more than a decade, but for years the city was stalled by a lack of nontaxpayer funding sources.
When the state voted in 2003 to authorize a gambling facility in Bangor, the city agreed to set aside its share of proceeds from Hollywood Slots to pay for the cost of a new facility.
So far, Hollywood Slots has generated more than $10 million in revenue toward a new arena and convention center. City Finance Director Debbie Cyr has projected annual earnings between $2.5 million and $3.5 million over the next 30 years.
Additionally, the City Council has agreed to appropriate $750,000 annually for at least the first 20 years of a 30-year loan from the downtown tax increment financing district. That total represents less than half of the annual TIF earnings, most of which come from Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway.
The arena and convention center proposal, designed by Colorado architect Don Dethlefs, calls for a U-shaped arena with 5,800 fixed seats and an overall capacity of 8,050. The adjacent convention center would have a wide variety of meeting and conference space options.
Local construction firm Cianbro Corp. has been hired to build the facility if approved and city councilors already have agreed that a private management firm will be hired should voters approve the project. Several big-name firms already have expressed strong interest.
City councilors have unanimously endorsed the arena proposal and have been steadfast in their belief that the project will not have an impact on local taxes. Supporters believe the project is crucial and could serve as a catalyst for future economic development in Bangor and would cement the city’s status as the entertainment destination of eastern Maine.
Opponents, however, do not share that optimism. The only reason the proposal is before voters is that a group of residents collected enough signatures to force a citywide referendum.
Critics have said that the project is too expensive and too risky to ask Bangor taxpayers to effectively co-sign on a loan of as much as $57 million. A better use of the Hollywood Slots’ revenue, they say, would be to renovate existing facilities.
Turnout on Wednesday could play a big role in the election’s result. City Clerk Patti Dubois said Tuesday that absentee voting over the last week had picked up steadily. She predicted turnout somewhere in the 10 percent to 15 percent range, which is strong for a special election but low overall. Bangor has about 22,000 registered voters, based on the last gubernatorial election.
Editor’s Note: Bangor Daily News publisher Richard J. Warren is a member of the steering committee for the Friends of the Maine Center, a group of area civic and business leaders backing the arena proposal.