‘Luxury’ of Coliseé is beyond taxpayers’ reach

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Other groups could use the type of bailouts given the struggling arena

As a citizen and taxpayer of Lewiston, I am appalled at the “bailout” of the Androscoggin Bank Coliseé. This should put everyone on notice that politics is what matters in Lewiston, not fiscal responsibility.

When voted, the “loan request” was the final agenda item. By the time the parades, festivals, and liquor licenses had been dealt with, the crowd was reduced to two concerned citizens and the inept Coliseé management team. The item should return before the council for new consideration – hopefully before a larger, more vocal, constituency.

This was the second “bailout” in less than a year. In December, the city voted to loan the Coliseé $300,000 to continue operating until June 30. Now, it appears it’s lost twice that amount, despite the Mainieacs having the most successful season anyone could expect.

(And heaven forbid the poor taxpayers stand in the way of ensuring Canadian kids get the exposure they need to get drafted by the NHL and sign lucrative professional contracts.)

In December, I spoke against the “loan” and questioned why the facility loses so much money. The main reason was a lack of other events, caused by conflicts with the Maineiacs’ schedule.

If we didn’t have the Maineiacs, it was said, the city could probably break even.

There was no discussion exploring that issue, or renegotiating the Maineiacs’ contract with the city. Former Coliseé owner Roger Theriault had a five-year contract with the team, and the city – without the least attempt at due diligence – chose to tie up the facility for 15 years in this losing situation.

Most telling about this sad affair came back in Feb. 2004, when the Central Maine Civic Center was about to fail: the city rushed to grab the place and keep the team. That meeting was packed with supporters, and any suggestion to go slowly and understand the risks involved fell onto deaf ears.

I was alone in speaking against acquiring the place. Now, three years later, there wasn’t a single supporter in the audience, and the only public input offered was prematurely cast aside without consideration.

Lewiston should have looked to Portland before it snatched up the civic center, and established a consortium of area towns to share the risks, and the benefits, of a public venue. Every town in Cumberland County has a piece of its civic center – the same could have been done here.

Of course, now there is no way another town would consider helping Lewiston with a proven loser on its hands. So much for municipal cooperation and consolidation! Can anyone imagine if the county commission had a hand in this?

The city continues to stress these types of buildings almost always lose money, and are supported by their communities. That’s true, but city officials must look at taxpayers, and what their priorities are and base the city’s ability to support the Coliseé on those facts.

Lewiston taxpayers cannot afford the “luxury” of funding an amateur sports team at the expense of the schools, the recent immigrant population and the poor and elderly. If the city truly has an extra $650,000 laying around, why isn’t it further supporting the Trinity Soup Kitchen, Hope Haven Homeless Mission and the Good Shepard Food Bank?

It’s time for Lewiston to set new ethical priorities and goals. The city must get out of the real estate management business. City officials have shown time and again an uncanny ability to waste the taxpayers’ money on anything they touch.

Our elected officials must step up to the plate and lead by example, rather than blindly rubber stamping the misguided missives of the current administration. Their time to act is now, and the voters’ time to act is in November, when they can all take part in this transformation through the ballot box.

Then Lewiston can truly claim the right to be called an “All-America City.”

Bruce C. Damon lives in Lewiston.

Editor’s Note: More opinions on the Colisee are available in this week’s b-section.

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