Hotelier suggests Bangor keep auditorium instead of demolishing it

Posted April 08, 2013, at 11:02 p.m.
Last modified April 09, 2013, at 12:03 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A local hotelier’s out-of-left-field suggestion has raised questions about whether the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center might survive alongside its replacement.

Danny Lafayette, who built a chain of 30 hotels in Maine, New Hampshire and Michigan, argued at the beginning of Monday’s night’s City Council meeting that the city would benefit from having a pair of large convention and event spaces, rather than just one.

Lafayette said that while the state-of-the-art Cross Insurance Center is nearing completion, that doesn’t mean the city couldn’t hold on to its iconic old arena as a way of attracting more and larger events to the Queen City.

The suggestion was a surprise — with the demolition of the old auditorium, which sits adjacent to its $65 million replacement, scheduled to begin on May 28.

Lafayette said such a change would allow the city to hold on to a piece of history, while attracting more people to local hotels and businesses. He argued that the building is structurally sound and could be used for several more decades if it is repaired and maintained properly.

“This is your Union Station,” Lafayette told the councilors. Union Station was Bangor’s railway hub and the largest station in Maine when it was built a few years prior to 1910. The station was demolished in the 1960s as part of the city’s urban renewal push.

There are many unanswered questions, and extensive work would be required to allow the building to continue to host events, according to City Manager Cathy Conlow. The asbestos-laden, 1950s-era building has a leaky roof, parts of which have blown off in recent storms, according to Conlow. The aging facility also has been increasingly expensive to heat and maintain.

The site plan for the Cross Insurance Center also requires that the old auditorium be torn down and parking put in its place, she said.

Peter Vigue, president and CEO of Cianbro Corp., the contractor for both the construction of the new arena and demolition of the old, said Monday night that it’s too early to tell if some sort of deal might be reached.

“It’s a tremendous expense to operate that old facility,” Vigue said.

Vigue said he has “tremendous respect” for Lafayette and would be happy to meet with him to hear his ideas.

“Anything’s possible,” he said.

In other business, the council unanimously voted to have Bangor residents decide at the polls on June 18 whether the city will take out a $3 million loan to replace Bangor Public Library’s failing century-old copper roof. The bond proposal drew a large crowd of library supporters to the council meeting.

Some councilors, including Pat Blanchette, Joe Baldacci and Charlie Longo, expressed strong support for the library’s bond request, calling the library the “heart of the community” and a “treasured asset.”

Councilor David Nealley expressed some “reservations” about taking out a bond for the project. While explaining his concerns, Nealley held up a copy of the city’s proposed budget, which reveals a gloomy fiscal picture — including potential cuts and a tax hikes — ahead for the city. He voted in favor of putting the bond question before voters, who would be left to decide its fate.

A $3 million bond would increase residents’ mill rate by about 7 cents per $1,000 of valuation, but if the state’s proposed budget passes, the mill rate could be raised by $2.50 per $1,000 of valuation even without the library bond. Baldacci argued that the bond was “well worth the investment.”

Councilor James Gallant, who describes himself as a “fiscal conservative,” said he had some concerns because of the troublesome budget picture. However, “as a fiscal conservative, you have to protect your investment,” he said, expressing his support for the bond.

Authors Stephen and Tabitha King have pledged $3 million toward renovations at Bangor’s library, but only if it reaches its goal of raising another $6 million for modernization and roof replacement.

Also at Monday night’s meeting, the council voted to:

• Back a resolve expressing the city’s support of LD 1213, an act that would allow federally qualified health centers to provide methadone treatment. Bangor is home to three of the state’s nine methadone facilities. Councilors and city staff have backed the bill, arguing that having more methadone facilities would ease access to treatment and reduce the concentration of patients who need to travel to Bangor for treatment. Some commute as far as two hours away daily for treatments. Those long commutes cost the state more than $7 million per year in travel reimbursements.

• Amend a city ordinance to establish a nonresident fee for individuals who use the city’s Organic Waste Disposal area. Currently, the city does not charge haulers of organic waste a fee.

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