October 2003

October 30, 2003

Lumberjacks will play in Bangor next year

Final work begins on team’s new home at Husson College

Construction crews are working quickly to beat the coming winter freeze as they prepare the earth around the John Winkin Baseball Complex for a 3,000-seat grandstand.
Despite protests from neighbors of Husson College, the Bangor Lumberjacks will play at the school’s John Winkin Baseball Complex beginning next year. Almost three weeks ago city leaders gave Husson the final go-ahead to build a 3,000-seat grandstand for the school’s new baseball field. Construction on the field began last summer.

Supporters of bringing professional baseball to the city have said it’s essential for a team to play in the city to succeed. The city’s previous team, the Blue Ox, played at the University of Maine’s Mahaney Diamond in Orono in 1996 and 1997 before moving to Quebec City after the Bangor City Council failed to support a publicly financed stadium.

Husson assistant baseball coach John Winkin sold his summer camp at auction to help the school install artificial turf for the field, with hopes of attracting a professional team. Bangor businessman Charles Hutchins announced last fall that he was going to buy the Adirondack (N.Y.) Lumberjacks and move the team to Bangor. The team played this past season at Mahaney Diamond and drew an average of 1,089 fans, according to the team. Hutchins had hoped to attract an average of 2,000 to the team’s home games.

“Hallelujah,” Winkin said at the Oct. 9 groundbreaking ceremony for the grandstand. “We finally made it. This is the toughest thing I’ve ever been through. It was like having a rain delay every day.”

The stadium project has hit plenty of snags and opposition along the way. Husson asked the city early this year to contribute $900,000 toward the $2 million project, but the City Council balked at the amount, agreeing later to contribute $381,000.

The Council’s vote angered some residents who started a petition to recall the seven councilors who voted to contribute the money. The petition drive failed. Residents of an apartment complex that sits just beyond the field’s outfield fence have complained that the stadium’s lights and traffic will damage their neighborhood’s character. In July, two residents of nearby Valley Avenue asked the city’s zoning board to reject the project on the grounds that the zoning ordinance didn’t allow for a professional baseball team to play in Husson’s section of the city. The zoning board of appeals disagreed, accepting Husson’s argument that the stadium was an accessory use of the college because the school’s baseball and football teams call the field home. The school says it will also use the stadium for its graduation ceremonies. Past ceremonies were held in nearby Newman Gymnasium, which required the school to limit graduates to six guests.

On Wednesday afternoon, construction workers were busy moving dirt in preparation for building the grandstand’s foundation. A survey crew also worked, just outside the left-field line fence.

Under an agreement with the city, Husson must finish working on the stadium by April 1, 2004.

Week of October 26, 2003

City Council votes 5-3 to accept Capital Seven Bass Park proposal

Last-minute pitch by Iowa developer fails to sway councilors

After months of public silence and executive sessions, the Bangor City Council voted Thursday to accept a Las Vegas businessman’s proposal to overhaul Bass Park. The 5-3 vote came after an Iowa developer made a last-minute pitch to the city that it could guarantee more revenue for the city.

Last winter, the City Council granted Shawn Scott tentative developer status after the Las Vegas businessman bought a 49 percent stake in Bangor Historic Raceway, a private company that manages harness racing at city-owned Bass Park. The Council’s act gave Scott and his company, Capital Seven, exclusive negotiating rights with the city.

Upon buying into Bangor Historic Raceway, Scott announced he wanted to overhaul Bass Park completely by rebuilding the 1/2-mile racetrack to 5/8 mile, building a new grandstand, clubhouse, paddock, parking lot and six-story hotel with a slot machine parlor, restaurant and movie theater.

In June, Bangor voters approved a plan that would legalize the installation of slot machines at Bass Park. Voters across the state must still approve the measure on Election Day.

Scott and harness racing supporters say revenue from slot machines would inject much needed cash into the racing industry to increase purses and attract higher quality horses and drivers. Bass Park is one of only two full-time racetracks in Maine. Scarborough Downs is the other. Scarborough voters will decide on Election Day whether to allow slot machines in their city.

Under the Bass Park deal, Bangor would receive about $420,000 annually in guaranteed rent from Capital Seven, with an additional $1 million to $3.8 million a possibility, depending on how much money Capital Seven brings in at the park. The City Council wants to use its income from the deal to finance a new sports arena and civic center to replace the current Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center, which are also at Bass Park. The Auditorium opened in 1955 and the Civic Center opened in 1978. A new venue would cost the city at least $40 million.

The City Council’s vote came a day after an Iowa development company announced that it could redevelop Bass Park and give the city a bigger share of a racino’s income. Kehl Management pledged to invest $40 million into Bass Park, compared to Capital Seven’s plan to invest $30 million.

Kehl Management told the City Council that it would like to be the city’s backup plan in case the state’s Harness Racing Commission rejects Scott’s application for a permanent racing license. The commission granted Scott a temporary license to operate the track this past spring and summer, but has yet to issue him a permanent license. In June, the state attorney general’s office asked the racing commission to reject Scott’s application because Scott, the office said, was not cooperating with a required background check. The office has since rescinded its request after reaching a deal with Scott on releases it needs to look into Scott’s dealings in New York, Louisiana and Nevada, where he has other gambling interests.

Councilors Nichi Farnham, Mike Crowley, Frank Farrington, Richard Greene and John Rohman voted in favor of the deal. Anne Allen, Gerry Palmer and Dan Tremble voted against the proposal. David Nealley, a Capital Seven employee, abstained.

October 23, 2003

A harbinger of winter?

Biting wind and snow whip through city

The season's first snowfall kept people away from the Thomas Hill Standpipe open house Wednesday.
The season’s first snowfall came with blustery temperatures for this time of the year Wednesday. A soft wind blew large snowflakes at a sharp angle early in the afternoon. The temperature reached only 39 degrees. The normal high for this time of year is 55. The surprise snowfall kept people away from the quarterly Thomas Hill Standpipe open house. Only a few people tolerated the blowing flurries to climb the standpipe’s 100 steps and take in the fall foliage. Of course, there wasn’t much to see from the promenade deck because of the limited visibility. The airport was not visible. The spires of the Hammond Street and Union Street Brick Churches were barely visible. And the Fleet Bank Building downtown was only a dark gray shadow.

On a good day the promenade deck offers views as far away as Mount Katahdin to the north and the White Mountains to the east.

The Bangor Water District had scheduled the fall open house for Sept. 15 originally. But when organizers saw rain that morning they postponed the event until Wednesday. By Wednesday afternoon on the 15th the rain had dissipated and the sun had come out.

Wednesday’s open house was the second consecutive one to have bad weather plague it. The summer open house in July featured steady rain. The next open house is scheduled for March 3.