BANGOR – The effort to replace the aging Bangor Auditorium received a major boost Wednesday when members of a special panel the City Council appointed to move the project forward recommended that construction begin during 2011 or sooner.
The time frame is earlier than any other considered in recent years. That’s a year sooner than the city’s initial estimate for a project that could cost $90 million or more. The target date is subject to council approval.
“We’re doing what the citizens have asked us to do,” said City Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes, who is heading up the special committee on arena implementation.
Councilor Gerry Palmer, who also serves on the arena panel, said the city needs to move on the project soon because “the market is changing and changing fast.”
Free Martin, who manages the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road, was among the committee members who believes now is the time to get serious about the project, noting the recent explosion of development activity in the region.
He cited the city’s new police station, Cianbro’s manufacturing facility in Brewer, Eastern Maine Medical Center’s expansion in Brewer and plans to expand in Bangor, and several new hotels poised to open in the Bangor Mall area as some examples.
“There isn’t an area in this town that is not moving,” he said. The only thing lacking, he said, is a facility for large-group gatherings, namely the proposed new arena and convention facilities. Having those among the area’s assets “will put us in a position to be a serious destination.”
City Manager Edward Barrett agreed. He said that the Portland area has many attractions to lure conferences and visitors but noted that its civic center is lacking. Augusta is just the opposite, with an adequate civic center but few amenities and attractions to draw visitors. With a new arena and conference facilities, Bangor could provide both, Barrett said.
Having a target date will focus the community’s energy, he said, which will be “very helpful from a planning point of view.”
The proposed arena, which likely will include attached space for conferences and exhibitions, would replace the city’s aging auditorium, which was built in 1955 and by most accounts needs to be replaced. And at an estimated cost of $60 million to $90 million or more, the project would be the largest the city has ever undertaken.
The city’s strategy calls for funding the project with revenues it receives as host city for Hollywood Slots at Bangor, which now operates out of a temporary facility in the former Miller’s Restaurant building on Main Street. The company, however, is gearing up to move into a permanent $132 million permanent home a few blocks up Main Street, across from Bass Park.
In a recent update on financing, city Finance Director Debbie Cyr said that the city’s share of revenues from Hollywood Slots was ahead of projections. A problem, however, is that the longer the city waits to start construction, the more it will cost, based on recent inflation in the construction industry.
In the five years that have elapsed since the city commissioned an arena feasibility study, the project’s estimated cost has jumped from $64 million to about $90 million.
So far, the city has received from Hollywood Slots more than $3.5 million, about 20 percent more than anticipated, according to financial data Cyr provided at an earlier meeting.
The city has used some of that money to recoup its costs connected to the arena project. The remaining balance stands at about $3 million.
That likely means that the city will have to issue bonds to pay for the bulk of the project.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Hawes began forming subcommittees to help scope out other possible funding sources, such as naming rights and state and county participation, and to develop specifications for a request for proposals for an updated marketing and feasibility study. That study will be limited in scope as it is meant to supplement information compiled as part of a marketing study completed in 2002.
In addition, the city plans to seek additional information from HOK Sport + Venue + Event, the Kansas City, Mo., firm it recently tapped to develop preliminary designs for the arena and evaluate possible locations.
The additional information will include updated cost projections and costs associated with developing the complex in two phases. Under that scenario, the arena would be built first to start generating a revenue stream, with attached convention space to be added later.