The Bangor City Council was roundly ridiculed for firing longtime City Manager Ed Barrett and saying it was because he and councilors did not share a common vision for the city. When pressed for their vision, councilors were less than articulate. But in the months that followed, one vision for the city’s future on which councilors could agree and advocate was that a new arena and conference center ought to be built.
In the overwhelming voter support for the project in the May 4 referendum, Bangor residents, by a 3-1 ratio, support this much of the council’s vision.
And taking the plunge on such a big project does rely on long-range vision. Even though the city has the built-in, steady revenue from Hollywood Slots to pay the construction loan, building a facility of this size is not like repaving a road or upgrading the sewer treatment plant. It requires a certain amount of faith. Bangor residents Wednesday said they have that faith.
But most worthwhile investments have an element of the unknown. Buying a house might seem reckless if one considers that layoffs are possible at work. Signing on for student loans might seem risky if one weighs the odds against completing a four-year degree.
City residents, with their votes, said they believe that Bangor will continue to thrive. That the draw of its downtown remains. That neighborhoods continue to be safe and friendly places to raise families. That an improving riverfront will draw recreational activity. That it will remain a hub for eastern and central Maine.
An arena that can comfortably host entertainment and sporting events and a conference center that can land regional, statewide and national meetings, trade shows and training sessions are cultural and economic amenities that a growing, vibrant small city like Bangor needs. If city leaders — and this includes the business leaders who supported the project — did not believe Bangor has a bright future, they would not have taken the leap of faith that this project represents.
Voters affirmed that they were right to do so.
The resounding approving vote for the arena and conference center gives proof to the wisdom of the phrase, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” The May 4 vote was a vote for Bangor’s future.