Nostalgia gives way to ‘racino’


BANGOR (AP) – The vacant Holiday Inn across the street from Bangor’s Paul Bunyan statue and Bass Park is surrounded by concrete barriers and fencing as contractors await word to proceed with the wrecking balls and excavators.

The razing of the hotel will mark the most dramatic sign of things to come as Penn National Gaming Inc. builds a permanent slot machine and entertainment complex.

Once completed, the $90 million Hollywood Slots at Bangor will be one of the first things motorists see upon exiting Interstate 395 and heading toward Bangor’s downtown.

The 116,000-square-foot slots-only casino will open with 1,000 machines, with the potential for up to 1,500. It will also have a hotel, three restaurants, an entertainment lounge, a gift shop and a parking garage for 1,500 cars and trucks.

“With this multimillion dollar construction will come a lot of economic development for the city of Bangor and the state,” said Amy Kenney, Hollywood Slots spokeswoman.For now, the 121-room hotel stands empty.

Cianbro workers already have removed carpet and ceiling tiles. Last week, they put up concrete barriers topped with fabric-covered fencing to prevent debris from raining down on motorists on Main Street when the building comes down.

They’re still awaiting approval next month from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to bring down the structure.

“As soon as that arrives, we begin demolition,” Kenney said. While few tears will be shed, there’s plenty of nostalgia surrounding the Holiday Inn. The hotel, built in 1974, opened as a shining centerpiece that served as more than just a place for people to stay while attending events, including the state basketball championships, across the street at the Bangor Auditorium.

It also served as Bangor’s entertainment center and many residents have a story to tell about its lively lounge – the Bounty Tavern.

“It was a place to go to get together with friends and dance and have some fun. It was ‘the Bangor hot spot,”‘ said Mayor Richard Greene.

Bill McGrath, who now works at Hollywood Slots’ temporary facility, spent plenty of time in the Bounty. He played guitar in a band called “Good Feeling” that played covers from Chicago, The O’Jays and Blood, Sweat and Tears at the 280-seat lounge in 1976 and 1977.

When the band played The O’Jays’ “Love Train,” revelers would form a train that would snake out one door, into the hotel, and back through another door, he said.

The Holiday Inn, along with a motel next door, were needed by Penn National because state law requires its permanent slots facility to be built within a 2,000-foot radius of the Bangor Raceway harness-racing track.

The former Main Street Inn was razed in June. The Holiday Inn closed in October, but Penn National didn’t close the deal on the site until last month.

For the time being, Penn National continues to operate its temporary Hollywood Slots at Bangor with 475 machines in the former Miller’s Restaurant. The facility, which opened in November 2005, has paid $21.3 million to the city and state so far.

Construction on the larger, permanent facility is to begin in April, and will be completed by mid-2008, Kenney said. Once that happens, the number of employees at the track, casino and off-track betting parlor will grow from 190 to 490, she said.

“It’s going to create a lot of good-paying jobs with benefits, which are not always easy to come by in the current economic environment,” said City Manager Ed Barrett.

Bangor intends to use much of its share of the money for economic development in the waterfront area. Eventually, the city hopes the money will help to lead to construction of a new civic center to replace the existing 50-year-old facility.

Revenues from the temporary slots parlor already have given a boost to the harness-racing industry, said Gerald “Butch” MacKenzie Jr., president of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association. All told, $6.7 million has gone to the racing industry, Kenney said.

“Harness-racing is real excited about this because we know what the temporary facility has done for us,” MacKenzie said. “With 1,000 machines online, everyone who’s supposed to get a percentage is going to do better.”

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AP-ES-01-28-07 1246EST