BANGOR, Maine — For Woodrow Cross, seeing the words “Cross Insurance Center” on the side of Bangor’s new arena and events center is the realization of a dream he never even dared to have.
Back in the 1950s, the Bradford native’s only involvement with a civic arena was as a part-time cement tester working for a company building the Bangor Auditorium, which opened in October 1955.
Cross had just started his one-man, Bangor-based insurance agency in 1954 and business wasn’t brisk enough for him to support his family, so he supplemented his income by working part-time jobs.
Now Cross, 95, still puts in six days a week at the agency bearing his name, but his agency has grown into a statewide and regional business employing about 450 people at 27 offices in three states.
Cross, his son Brent and grandson Jonathan were all on hand Tuesday morning at the city’s official announcement of the naming rights for the $65 million, 8,000-seat arena that will be hosting events as early as the fall of next year. The naming rights are the result of a 15-year, $3 million deal between Cross Insurance Agency and the city.
“It’s quite something to see that on this arena,” said Woodrow Cross, who also used to work part time at the mill for Eastern Fine paper in Brewer. “And it’s nice to be a part of this project.”
He was referring to artists’ renderings of the finished arena and its signage on display at Tuesday’s press conference.
Brent Cross, who grew up on Silver Road in Bangor, remembers delivering copies of the Bangor Daily News as a Sunriser for several years.
It’s that kind of local connection that excited the speakers at Tuesday’s naming ceremony, held inside an arena that is rapidly taking shape.
“I’m thrilled that it’s a truly local company investing in this,” said Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow. “I think from a personal perspective, this is really a momentous day for us. I’m moved that a family in Bangor would invest that kind of money into naming this facility.”
Bangor City Councilor Pat Blanchette referred to Cross as a multigenerational, homegrown family business from Bangor and said it was “probably one of the most unique naming situations in the country.”
Bangor City Councilors Charlie Longo and James Gallant were also on hand for Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Brent Cross and [nephew] Woody Cross taught a risk management class at Husson, which Jamie and I both took,” said Longo. “You would think that people who own a company big enough to have the Red Sox and Patriots as clients wouldn’t take the time to teach a class at Husson, but they do and that’s what’s so great about Cross.
“They’re big, but they’ve never lost that local sense of where we come from.”
Cianbro Corp. Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue, whose company is constructing the arena, thanked the Crosses for their investment, saying the project is much greater than a new arena, but also about “advancing this city and this community.”
“You are endorsing this facility by putting your name on it,” Vigue said.
The Crosses were originally referred by Friends of the Maine Center, a grass-roots advocacy group for the new arena, as a possible founding sponsor of the arena. The Friends group made the referral to Front Row Marketing, a company contracted by the city of Bangor that specializes in generating ancillary income for sports and entertainment venues.
“Front Row approached us initially about a lower category of sponsorship, but then I said, ‘Well, what about the naming rights?’” said Brent Cross.
“They had five or six companies they’d been talking to for a couple months, but after we talked to them on July 5, we had them back in on Monday, July 9, and made them an offer.”
The arena isn’t finished and the name has yet to go on the exterior, but Cross said his company’s deal is already paying dividends.
“I think it’s exceeded our expectations already,” Brent Cross said. “A couple of insurance journals picked up the story and spread it nationwide, so we’ve already gotten the kind of buzz we were hoping for.”
Cross said a broker in Vermont who sells insurance agencies saw the story and called to tell Cross he has an agency for sale.
“We would love to get into Vermont, but as much as expansion is key for us, this is where all our high-paid jobs are,” said Brent Cross. “Our IT people come out of Bangor, our finance people, our high-paid, salaried positions are in Bangor, Maine. They’re not in Boston, they’re not in Manchester, they’re here.”