BANGOR, Maine — The Queen City has built an entertainment industry, one that’s still in its fledgling state and should continue to thrive, panelists involved with those offerings said during a Wednesday Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
“When you look at us collectively, as a whole, we have a lot of things to offer here that we can go out and sell,” said Joe Imbriaco, the new general manager of the Cross Insurance Center, Bangor’s new arena and convention facility. Now that Bangor has infrastructure and events, it’s time to promote and continue to spread the word, he told the breakfast attendees.
“It’s not like the movie, just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll come,” Imbriaco said.
John Porter, chamber president and CEO, called the American Folk Festival “Patient Zero” when it came to the entertainment boom in Bangor. Many credit the growth in performances, events and business seen in Bangor during the past decade to the success of the three-year National Folk Festival, which evolved into the festival that continues on the waterfront to this day.
“It’s been an incredible point of pride for our team that we’ve been able to keep this going,” festival director Heather McCarthy said. She said that when people behind the National Folk Festival visited Bangor near the turn of the century, they saw a waterfront whitewashed with snow and untapped potential.
“The folks from Washington saw a blank slate here in many ways,” she said.
Daniel Williams, executive director of the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine, said he remembers people talking about building a “creative economy” in the Bangor area years ago. That has finally come to bear, he said.
Williams said he and others at the table, including representatives of Penobscot Theatre, Husson University’s Gracie Theatre, Waterfront Concerts, Hollywood Casino, and the Cross Insurance Center were each working to identify and fill their respective niche, providing a range of entertainment offerings that appeal to diverse crowds, from a few hundred people in a theater to thousands along the waterfront.
Robbie Snow of Waterfront Concerts said that when shows launched in 2010, organizers didn’t expect the concert series to grow this much this quickly. A University of Maine study found that during the first three years, concerts pumped $30 million into the local economy. An updated version of that study, expected to be released this summer, found an even greater impact in 2013 than in previous years, Snow said.
“It’s just a testament to the community’s people, as well as those willing to travel down from Northern Maine and Eastern Canada,” Snow said. “The more people we bring in, the more people will enjoy it and the more we’re going to grow.”
He said he has younger brothers he’d “hate to lose to California or Florida,” and that job opportunities offered by the entertainment industry, combined with the entertainment offerings themselves, should go a long way toward keeping young people in the region.
“The healthier the ecosystem, the better it is for all our individual organizations,” said Bari Newport of Penobscot Theatre.
Follow BDN reporter Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.