BANGOR, Maine — Saying Bangor is in a position to dominate the state and northern New England entertainment scene for the next 25 years, Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray sounded a strong note Wednesday for the future of Bangor’s “entertainment corridor.”
The event was the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce early bird breakfast and the topic was “The Vision for for Main Street Bangor — the Entertainment Corridor.”
The speakers were Gray, Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway General Manager John Osborne and Global Spectrum Regional Vice President Doug Higgons, and all painted very robust and vibrant pictures for Bangor’s potential.
“I suspect, for the next couple of years we won’t have enough hotel rooms in the area after the new arena and events center opens,” said Osborne.
Bangor’s new arena is scheduled to open over the Labor Day weekend next year.
Higgons, whose company will manage the new arena, said Bangor is bucking the trend nationally against communities investing in civic infrastructure features such as arenas, but he is convinced it will pay off for a number of reasons.
“When we looked at Bangor, the competition to manage the new arena was intense, and there was a reason for that,” Higgons said. “We put all our eggs in this basket because when you look at the picture-postcard idea of Maine, this is it.
“But Bangor is unique in that it has the infrastructure and support of a big city without the big-city feel and drawbacks like traffic and congestion.”
All three speakers lauded Bangor’s deliberate, forward-looking approach to waterfront development.
“The key thing is having an effective master plan,” said Osborne. “You don’t want 20 years to go by and ask how you got here, with no connection and three quick lube places between developments.”
Gray said thanks to cooperation and moves by city staff members and city councilors, Bangor has positioned itself to dominate the entertainment scene inside the state’s borders and beyond.
“We don’t do a lot of shows in Portland now, generally, because acts hate it,” Gray said flatly. “It’s not a perfect situation like it is here.”
Gray explained that even the upcoming $30 million renovation of Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland won’t make it superior to Bangor’s finished arena.
“They can’t really change the infrastructure. They can’t push the roof upward, expand the walls outward, or change the loading bays,” Gray said. “They’d have to blow it up and rebuild it.”
All three speakers pointed to Bangor’s proximity to tourist-targeted destinations such as Bar Harbor and Camden as major advantages.
“Our customer research tells us a lot of people make two- to three-day trips for our concerts, spending 12-36 hours in Bangor and then visiting Millinocket to see a moose or heading to the coast,” Gray said.
He said research also shows that after struggling to attract concert fans from outside this area during his first season two years ago, now 17 percent of his concert attendees come from outside the state.
“We’re not just selling the arena, we’re selling the area, and downtown is also a key to that,” said Higgons.
Osborne said Hollywood Casino’s customer demographic — which has steadily been about 55 years old since it opened in late 2007 — is also shifting as the concerts continue. He expects that trend to continue with the new arena opening.
“There’s a big difference between Godsmack and The Beach Boys when it comes to our clientele,” Osborne said with a chuckle. “ And when we added table games, we’ve started seeing a much younger crowd and we’re forecasting more growth after the arena is finished.”
One Chamber member asked Gray about the projected cost of a permanent amphitheater and how it would be paid for.
Gray, who put the price tag at around $7 million to $10 million, said Waterfront Concerts would pay for it over time with its rent to the city. He also noted that if he could build a parking area and collect fees, Waterfront Concerts would be able to pay the entire cost of a permanent facility.
Last year, Waterfront Concerts paid Bangor $80,000 to lease the concert space, according to Bangor Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette, and also paid for all expenses incurred from use of city staff and resources, such as extra police and parks and recreation workers. The amount paid to the city in 2010 was $52,000.
“Eventually, with a permanent facility and all the creature comforts and amenities inherent with them, we will get the big names like the Elton Johns and Billy Joels,” said Gray. “With Hollywood Casino, the new arena, and a permanent amphitheater, we can close the door and make Bangor the entertainment capital of northern New England.”