Bangor set to hire private management firm for new arena

Posted June 26, 2011, at 11:31 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors will vote Monday on whether to hire a Pennsylvania-based firm to oversee operations and marketing for a $65 million arena and convention center that has been approved by voters and awaits construction.

In the last month, a small selection committee of city staff and councilors met recently with three companies that submitted proposals. Global Spectrum and SMG are both well-known East Coast firms and Venuworks, of Ames, Iowa, manages a number of facilities in the Midwest.

The committee quickly ruled out Venuworks and narrowed focus to Global Spectrum and SMG, which are both headquartered in the Philadelphia area. Committee members felt that both firms would serve the city well, but ultimately gave the slight nod to Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of cable and Internet giant Comcast.

“Every question was met with a potential solution tailored to their understanding of our market-facility size, other options to consider, including the pros and cons, and lastly an emphasis on the fact that it would ultimately be the city’s choice,” Finance Director Debbie Cyr wrote in her memo recommending that the Council select Global Spectrum.

The current Bangor Auditorium, built in 1955, and the Bangor Civic Center, built in 1978, are managed by Bass Park, a division of the city of Bangor. However, councilors have long felt that if a new arena and convention center was built in Bangor, it would not be managed by the city.

The city came close to hiring a management firm in 2003, when a new arena and civic center were first proposed. Councilors narrowed a list to the same three finalists but broke off negotiations in the eleventh hour.

Now that voters have enthusiastically supported construction of a new complex, the city again has narrowed its sights. The goal has been to have a private management firm in place before construction of a new facility begins and for the firm to work closely with architect Don Dethlefs of Colorado and construction company Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield, to build a facility that meets a variety of needs.

In an interview with the Bangor Daily News in March, Frank Russo, senior vice president of business development for Global Spectrum, said his firm was actively pursuing the Bangor market.

“It’s extremely valuable to be involved early,” he said. “We’re not architects or engineers, but we can provide input on things that will allow maximum usage of the facility, which is what everyone wants.”

Bangor’s proposed arena calls for 5,800 fixed seats with a maximum capacity of 8,050 for concerts and other events. The convention center would replace the existing civic center and would include a variety of meeting spaces and a much-needed industrial kitchen. Many believe it could be the premiere venue in the state for conferences and conventions, but councilors have said hiring a firm like Global Spectrum is the crucial piece to ensuring success.

A private management firm brings a broad network of industry contacts to draw from, the ability to block-book events with other facilities they manage and name-brand leverage to a city that is trying to reestablish itself as an entertainment destination.

Global Spectrum manages several similar-sized arenas in New England, including the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass. and the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I.

In its proposal to Bangor, Global Spectrum outlined potential partnerships with the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau and with promoters of the Waterfront Concerts, who have enjoyed success and the city’s waterfront. The firm also has experience taking over publicly run facilities and historically retains 85 percent of existing staff.

Bangor is counting on revenue generated from Hollywood Slots and a portion of the annual downtown development tax increment financing funds to pay for construction . However, Global Spectrum indicated that advertising and sales would be a big revenue opportunity even during construction in terms of naming rights and signage opportunities.

Monday’s council vote does not address the finances associated with a contract between the city and Global Spectrum. The city is expected to pay an annual fee, but operational losses likely would be considerably reduced because a new facility can attract more events.

In its proposal, Global Spectrum said the city would “need to determine whether the facility’s focus should be to break even, to generate regional economic impact, or a balance of the two.”

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