BANGOR, Maine — Area residents got their first opportunity to explore Bangor’s new $68 million arena and convention center Saturday. Many said they were impressed and hoped the new building will live up to expectations and bring new energy and attention to the region.
The open house wrapped up a weeklong celebration of the opening of the Cross Insurance Center and drew thousands of residents from Bangor and surrounding communities. For many Bangor residents, it was the first chance to see up close and in detail the result of their 2011 vote to move ahead with an expensive investment in hopes that it will pay back dividends for decades.
“We’re very impressed. It’s a lot better than the old auditorium, that’s for sure,” said Glenn Severance of Brewer, as he and his wife, Kim, and 10-year-old son, Brandon, walked through the halls of the new convention center. “That was OK when I was a kid, but it had its time.”
The nearly 60-year-old Bangor Auditorium was torn down earlier this summer to make way for a parking lot for its replacement.
Severance said he hopes the new venue will draw many more people to Bangor. Kim Severance said she wasn’t just impressed with the new building, but the vendors inside, offering pizza, baked potatoes, Maine-made hot dogs, and even lobster rolls.
“This venue, it will be such a draw, such a magnet for people to come to Bangor,” said Bob Kenney of Bangor, who sat next to his wife, Jan Rollins. The couple said they liked the layout and the views, adding that they didn’t think there would be a bad seat in the house.
They say they’re confident the city’s “gamble” to invest in a new arena rather than fix up what they had will pay off.
The debate over whether Bangor should build a new arena or fix up the old one lasted for more than a decade, until voters two years ago approved the 5,800-fixed seat arena, with a maximum capacity of more than 8,000.
City Councilor Pauline Civiello stood in the lobby handing out information pamphlets and greeting visitors as they streamed in Saturday afternoon. She said she voted against building a new arena, believing a city of 33,000 residents shouldn’t take on that kind of debt, potentially causing a hike in residents’ taxes. She also believed that other Penobscot County communities should be pitching in, taking on a share of the millions of dollars in burden.
Now that it’s here, Civiello said she and her fellow councilors want to ensure that the arena grows into a successful enterprise under the leadership of Global Spectrum, operator of the arena, and eventually is able to sustain itself.
“I want only the best for Bangor’s taxpayers, and if today’s excitement is any indication, we won’t have any problems keeping this hopping,” Civiello said as residents from Bangor and surrounding towns explored the venue.
The Cross Center hosts its first ticketed event on Sept. 20, when the Harlem Globetrotters visit Bangor for the second time this year.
Pam Dobbins of Bradley said she was looking forward to getting “Mamma Mia” tickets.
“It doesn’t even feel like you’re still in Bangor when you’re in here,” she said of the Cross Insurance Center.
Public tours will continue until 8 p.m. Saturday, with bounce houses for kids, free concessions, a talent show and other events. A fireworks display is scheduled to end the event.
An earlier version of this story reported that City Councilor Pauline Civiello stated, “We won’t have any problems keeping this popping.” She said, “hopping.”