BANGOR — The “face” of old Bangor, Paul Bunyan looms over the southern end of Main Street.
But growing behind Paul is the “face” of new Bangor, the new Bangor Arena and Conference Center that city leaders hope will become the new look of Bangor.
The $65 million project, which is expected to be completed in August 2013, is anticipated to be the next and biggest part of the revitalization of Bangor’s downtown, which began with the refurbishment of the waterfront area, especially Hollywood Casino.
The facility will replace the 1955-era Bangor Auditorium and the Bangor Civic Center, built in 1978. The fairgrounds and racetrack area will remain untouched, while the auditorium and civic center will be demolished and replaced by a parking lot.
What the new construction will lack in sentimentality, it will more than make up for with present-day viability. According to a market study commissioned by the city in 2009, the existing auditorium and civic center have deficiencies that hinder the city’s ability to attract meetings and events to Bangor.
Speaking as a member of the business community, Yellow Light Breen, executive vice president for Bangor Savings Bank, explained: “The current Bangor Civic Center complex — despite the efforts of a great staff — is simply put a very antiquated and worn-out facility which is substandard for many meetings and conferences. It is too small for many events — even for trade groups and conferences from larger groups inside Maine let alone from away. Audiovisual and lighting equipment as well as cooking and catering equipment are either unavailable or really subpar for many needs. The new, larger facility, with modern and more flexible configurations and equipment, is going to better retain existing business and attract greater use and command higher rental prices than today.”
Most Bangor residents realized there is a need, with the arena/conference center gaining a 75-percent approval at the May 4 referendum vote.
The project is an updated design by architect Don Dethlefs; the contractor is by Pittsfield construction firm Cianbro Corp. The project calls for construction of a U-shaped arena with 5,800 fixed seats spread across event, concourse, and suite levels. Arena seating can be expanded to 8,050 seats for certain events.
The attached conference center of about 16,000 square feet can house as many as 2,800 people for specific events.
Mike Dyer, Bass Park executive director, said the new Arena has a regulation-size floor of 200-feet-by-85-feet, which means that any show that plays the TD Garden or Madison Square Garden could fit into the Bangor building as well. This means that shows such as Ringling Brothers Circus, Cirque du Soleil, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and any concert that needs to sell more than 5,000 tickets to make the stop worthwhile are more likely to consider Bangor.
Other advantages cited by Dyer include:
• Rigging steel in the roof, which will allow shows to move in quicker;
• The Arena and Conference Center will meet the March 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act standards;
• There will be sufficient food and beverage sales areas (and restrooms) to meet customer demand;
• The Conference Center will be serviced by a professional, in-house kitchen and staff;
• The Arena will feature only upholstered seats, with backs and cupholders, and no bleachers;
• The Arena and the Conference Center will be air-conditioned and heated with natural gas;
• Meeting-room inventory will nearly triple (from seven to 18) in the new Conference Center.
To fund the construction, the city will borrow $57.6 million over a 30-year period. After a $7 million down payment, that translates into an annual debut of about $3.7 million.
Two revenue sources are projected to pay for the Arena: proceeds from Hollywood Casino and business property taxes.
Bangor receives 1 percent of the 39 percent tax on Hollywood Casino revenue that is paid to the state, and also 3 percent of net revenue directly from Hollywood Casino. It has been projected that the city will gain $2.3 to $3.4 million annually for the next 30 years from the casino, and that estimate does not include any potential table-game revenues in future years.
The city generates $2 million in property taxes annually from its downtown tax increment fund and would appropriate $750,000 annually toward the Arena project.
The city is hoping to cash in on a new source of revenue as well. The City Council has approved a contract with Front Row Marketing Services to sell naming rights to the facilities, skyboxes, premium seating and signage. The city would receive at least 80 percent of such revenue.
This is a project which has blossomed right in front of the citizens’ eyes. Thanks to the warm winter weather, construction has remained on schedule.
“It certainly helped us from not having to spend April making up for any lost time,” explained Jon DiCentes, senior project manager for Cianbro.
Jim Ring, project manager for the City of Bangor, added, “It’s going very, very well. We’re very pleased with every aspect of how the project’s going.”
In 3½ months, the “bones” of the arena are in place, with five of the seven large arena roof trusses and the bar joists between them installed. Steel framing for much of the concourse and suite levels is complete, and roof metal decking is installed. Quite a bit of overhead construction under the arena roof structures has commenced. Also, concrete foundation and underground utilities for the Conference Center have been completed.
Over the next month, the remaining two main trusses will be installed and with them will be continuation of the rest of the precast concrete bowl units and the roof enclosures. Also, the framing for the conference center is likely to get started. As the buildings are enclosed, the interior work can begin.
Ring cautioned that, despite the obvious progress, there’s still a lot to do over the next year and a half.
“It’s like building a house,” he explained. “A crew can get the walls up quickly. But most of the work has to be done on the interior.”
Breen is looking forward to the finished facilities: “The new [conference center] is going to be a much greater attraction for meeting and conference business, with the attendant increase in economic impact in the Bangor economy. The same will go with events and entertainment in the auditorium part of the venue. The direct economic effect will be important, but so too will be the intangible impact on quality of life in the area and through increasing Bangor’s visibility with business leaders, tourists, event goers and others who may bring their shopping dollar or even their businesses to the area over time.”
Dyer is excited about the future, but also melancholy about the past.
“It will be great to be able to say, ‘Yes, we can do that,’ as opposed to ‘Let’s see if we can make it work,’ “ he said. “To be able to offer state-of-the-art amenities to patrons will certainly make us happy [to say nothing of the customers’ reaction].
“That being said, we’ll all miss the old building, but memories of all the good times that were had by hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years will only grow sweeter with the passage of time,” Dyer said.