Businessman makes public plea to save Bangor Auditorium

12:40 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- During Monday night's city council meeting, A prominent Bangor business owner and philanthropist made a public plea to the council to not tear down the old Bangor Auditorium and to continue using it instead. The Auditorium is slated to be torn down at the end of next month and used to create more parking for the new Cross Insurance Center.   The man behind the request is Danny Lafayette, who over the years has built up a hotel empire that includes 30 hotels: 1 in Michigan; 3 in New Hampshire; and 26 in Maine,    including the Fireside Inn in Bangor, the White House Inn in Hampden, and the Black Bear Inn in Orono. He's also donated to a number of charities including the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer.

Dressed in a T-shirt and touring us through a century old barn, Danny Lafayette, might not fit the image of a hotel magnate with more than two dozen hotels across three states. He and about a dozen of his employees work in an old house and barn, some parts of which have only faced-insulation on the walls.  "This is the garage, yet once again, we didn't tear it down,"  He explains. 

Lafayette practices what he preaches. He doesn't believe in tearing down old buildings if they can be re-used.  That's exactly how he feels about the Bangor Auditorium.      

"In my opinion, you don't have to put any money into it its functional, its useable and use it for events where it would complement the cross center and over time like any building, this building here is over 100 years old we use it for offices, I live in a 200 year old house that was built by the first settler of hampden, i would never dream of tearing it down."   

He thinks the auditorium could host conventions or events like the flower show, while the bigger concerts are held next door. Demolition is slated to begin by the end of next month, so there isn't much time left, but Lafayette is talking to everyone he can, to convince them the auditorium, much like his office is worth saving.

"The average home in Maine is 70 years old, the auditorium is only 58 years old," Lafayette said.  "Some people would advocate for tearing down every house in Maine because they're too old, but a lot of us love it, you know I was born in Maine, I love Maine and I think this is an iconi(c)...this is our Union Station and I think if we tear it down we'll look back and regret it."

Lafayette says patrons could take shuttle busses from the city's other lots or garages if there isn't enough parking.   He says the building could be closed during the winter months if heating costs are a concern.

Of course the question becomes will the costs outweigh the benefits. With start of demolition weeks away, the idea of keeping the building comes as a surprise to city officials and auditorium staff alike. They're not necessarily counting out the idea yet, but admit that keeping both the old auditorium and the new Cross Insurance Center doesn't seem possible this late in the game.  Chairman of the City Council, Nelson Durgin, still can't quite wrap his mind around the idea of keeping the Bangor Auditorium.

"Very difficult to comprehend how exactly we could use that building," said Durgin. Both he and facility manager Mike Dyer say that they believe the plan to keep the Bangor Auditorium was well intentioned but that it doesn't seem economical. 

According to Durgin, the operation of the old building is costing the city around four to five hundred thousand dollars a year above what it brings in for revenue to operate.

The staff at the Auditorium have started to pack up their offices to move next door to the Cross Insurance Center. Mike Dyer, who will be managing the new building, says it's time for the move.      

"We'd be looking at somewhere in excess of probably $160,000 a year in just upkeep expenses," Dyer explained.    

He gave tours of his new location back in January. It's a building that was built with the idea of holding multiple events at one time, which eliminates the idea of keeping the older building.     

"I just don't see enough of a potential upside in my opinion to warrant considering that," explained Dyer.   

 For now the city manager's office is looking into Lafayette's proposed plan and seeing if it looks possible, but with a contracted crew weeks away from demolition there isn't a lot of time to gather information, unless the demolition can be postponed.


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