Bangor residents vote Wednesday, May 4 on whether or not the city proceeds with plans to build a new arena and civic center. They should vote “yes” for the city’s, and the region’s, future.
The proposed new Maine Center must be understood as an investment. It is an investment that will help Bangor take the next step toward becoming a modern center of commerce and culture for northern, eastern and central Maine. It is an investment that is timely, relatively secure and bound to yield economic development.
Spending $70 million to $80 million, as the center is projected to cost, should not be undertaken lightly. So it is reasonable for some people to oppose such a big-ticket purchase. But in this case, that investment is about as low-risk as could be imagined. Bangor is in the enviable position of having a built-in revenue stream from Hollywood Slots to pay the note.
The moment is right for giving the project the green light. The preliminary planning and engineering work has been done, the climate is ripe for competitive bidding by contractors, and interest rates are low for borrowing.
The economic development opportunities a new center creates seem to be misunderstood by opponents. The existing Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center does not bring in more revenue than the city devotes to operating them. In that sense, the facility is taxpayer supported. A new facility will probably continue in that vein, but likely to a lesser extent.
The new arena should be understood instead as what retailers call a loss leader, an item on which little or no profit is made, but its value comes by bringing customers into the store who may buy something else or return another time. If various performances bring people from out of town to spend money at stores, restaurants and hotels, then those businesses are better able to hire, expand and pay more property taxes.
The community boost a modern entertainment venue brings should not be dismissed as feel-good fluff. Live music and other performances often are cited by the much sought-after self-employed 20-somethings who can grow their businesses in any Maine community. We want them here.
While many of us will see the inside of a new arena, most will not use the new conference center. Yet it has the most potential to affect the local and regional economy. If operators market it and the city effectively, conferences, meetings, training sessions and trade shows will be booked several times a month. This again will bring people to Bangor, where they will spend money. It also will bring the sorts of movers and shakers, business and nonprofit organization leaders who later may invest in Bangor enterprises or at least come away with an appreciation for the community.
Another misunderstanding is that the current facility can be patched up for less money and operated for another decade or so. The city council has concluded that the current facility is a drag on the budget, with diminishing returns on repair and maintenance. So the May 4 vote can be seen as a choice between a new facility or no facility.
If the no votes prevail, there will be no more indoor concerts in Bangor. If the no votes prevail, the city will have closed the door to the business-stimulating activities that a modern conference center will bring. If the no votes prevail, the revenue stream from Hollywood Slots that would be dedicated to paying for the facility will be in limbo.
The support for the project is telling. An often divided city council has unanimously endorsed it. The business community is staunchly behind it (BDN Publisher Richard J. Warren is a member of the Friends of the Maine Center Steering Committee). Younger community leaders, who will pay to maintain the facility over the next 30 years, have rallied around the project.
If Bangor residents were to vote today on creating Cascade Park, would they be likely to approve the expenditure? The land, the argument would be made, could be sold for housing, thereby increasing the tax base. And landscaping costs money, as does cutting grass and maintaining walkways, so a park could be seen as a burden.
Thankfully, city leaders have ensured that Cascade and 19 other parks are part of the public portion of the city. Parks and other amenities create an intangible but important quality of life. That quality of life encourages people to live and start businesses here.
Communities that do not invest in infrastructure do not grow. Bangor has the dynamic mix of a regional shopping draw, a revitalized downtown and a unique (for now) recreation business in Hollywood Slots. Add to it a first-rate conference and live entertainment center, and the city will be ready to fire on all cylinders.
Say yes to a brighter Bangor future by voting yes on Wednesday, May 4.