Harness racing at Bangor’s Bass Park in the year 2002 was one of the agenda items at the Tuesday meeting of the Bass Park Advisory Committee.
The BPAC is composed of Bangor City Council members, Bangor Auditorium staff and legal counsel who make recommendations to the City Council on issues concerning the Bass Park Complex.
On Tuesday, Fred Nichols, raceway manager of Bangor Historic Park, lessees of Bangor Raceway, took the first step to secure harness racing at Bass Park for 2002 and beyond. He told committee members he already has been granted 30 race days for 2001, beginning in mid-May and ending in late July.
Nichols said next year is the eighth and final year of a lease agreement (5-year contract, 3-year extension) his investor group negotiated with the City of Bangor. He went before the committee Tuesday seeking approval for an extension of that agreement.
In a prepared statement to committee members, Nichols said he realized the city was in the process of undertaking the enormous task of putting together the financial aspects and a building plan for new facilities at the complex sometime in the future. Nichols has an idea he would like the committee to explore with him in the interim.
Citing the economic contributions to both the city and Bangor-area businesses generated by the Bangor racetrack, Nichols said he hopes BPAC members agree Bangor Raceway is worth preserving for as long as reasonably possible. Nichols also hopes the city would be interested in renewing Bangor Historic Track’s lease on a year-to-year basis until the city has finalized plans for a new facility and the project is under way.
Edward Barrett, city manager, also sent BPAC members a memorandum containing his thoughts on Nichols’ request and options available to the council while continuing to deal with the uncertainties regarding the future direction the council will take with the entire Bass Park Complex.
Barrett’s memo contained options for the committee to consider: first, issue a request for proposals (RFP) for potential harness racing operators; second, extend the existing lease for an additional year or years or look for other potential uses for the property.
Barrett did not recommend issuing an RFP because the request would have to be based upon a multiyear lease in the three- to five-year range. An RFP for a one-year lease would probably result in only a single response, that of Bangor Historic Track. BHT was the only group to respond to the original RFP seven years ago.
Barrett said harness racing at Bass Park had a successful year in 2000 and the group wishes to continue to operate. Harness racing is also a source of revenue for Bass Park, Barrett said, as well as a source for some maintenance and capital funding.
He said the city council does not believe these revenues could be made up from other revenue-producing options for the grounds.
Barrett said that at some point, the council may determine there is a better use for the Bass Park property, but it is not yet ready to make that decision.
Given the long history of harness racing at Bass Park and the active involvement of groups who support its continuance, Barrett said he would not recommend a decision to end harness racing until there were definite alternatives and substantial public comment. Barrett’s memo concluded that deciding to no longer support harness racing at Bass Park may be premature.
City councilors John Rohman and Judy Vardamis, also members of the BPAC, agreed with Barrett’s assessment that Nichols’ request was a “no-brainer” and that it makes sense to have a paying occupant in the park rather than let it set idle during prime summer months. Both councilors indicated a willingness to grant Nichols his request, but on the advice of legal counsel, a final recommendation to the city council was postponed until the committee’s February meeting.
“In the meantime,” Vardamis said, “we will work with Fred to help make it happen.”
So did Bangor Raceway have a good year this past racing season? “Just to survive in this business is a good year,” Nichols concluded.
PACING BITS – Gardner Patterson’s book “Ben Blue”, the story of a young boy’s relationship with his grandfather and their adventure getting a Standardbred racehorse to the Bangor State Fair, has been well-accepted by the public and its second printing has just been completed. The United States Trotting Association sold 300 copies on its Web site almost instantly and theMaine Harness Racing Promotion Board purchased copies for every school in Maine.
Even the Harness Museum of the Trotter in Goshen, N.Y., has added it to its horse book collection.
Just in time for Christmas, “Ben Blue” makes a great gift for anyone who has ever been bitten by the horse bug and is available at: Thompson Printing (Brewer); Mr. Paperback (all locations); Book Marc’s (downtown Bangor); Borders (Bangor Mall) and Book Stacks (Bucksport).