PORTLAND – The Cumberland County Civic Center gets generally high marks from concert and event promoters and producers, but must be upgraded if it’s going to continue to attract high-level performers.

That’s the conclusion a team of consultants presented Wednesday to a task force that is looking into the possibility of renovating the 33-year-old arena.

The civic center is considered Maine’s premier venue and it serves a reliable market, but its “back-of-house” facilities need to be brought up to modern standards for more elaborate productions, said the consultants from Brailsford & Dunlavey and The Goldwater Group.

The task force hired the firms to assess the arena’s operations and work on estimates of costs and revenues that can be expected if it is renovated. The task force, appointed by the trustees, is considering options for renovations. It could ask voters to approve a bond in November 2011 to pay for the work.

Brian Conway, a consultant with Brailsford & Dunlavey, said he and consultant Bobby Goldwater talked to concert promoters, who said the civic center is well managed and the market provides a consistent number of ticket buyers for events in Portland.

But they also said some larger productions are hampered by the civic center’s small loading dock and a lack of backstage space and amenities.

The consultants said promoters also feel that many improvements would be unlikely to attract new events – although they could keep the civic center from losing acts that it already draws.

They said more seats would be nice but are not considered a necessity.

The arena now seats 6,700 for Portland Pirates hockey games and 7,500 for most concerts.

The promoters said the arena’s major drawbacks include a lack of space for storage, cramped dressing rooms and a relatively small “footprint” — the area that can be used for staging productions.

They also said the civic center could use more space, for merchandise sales, reduced congestion on the concourses and an overall improvement in guests’ experience.

Conway and Jason Thompson, also from Brailsford & Dunlavey, suggested three levels of upgrades for the arena.

The first, called a conservative approach, would focus mostly on the backstage issues, plus renovations to restrooms.

The moderate approach would include those changes, plus improvements to concession and merchandise stands, a kitchen for catering, upgrades to “front-of-house” areas such as the box office, wider concourses and more attractive entrances and exits.

The final level, called an “aggressive approach,” would include the items from the conservative and moderate approaches, plus more seating, premium seating such as luxury suites and club seats, and a restaurant.

Conway said the conservative approach would take care of the civic center’s most dire needs.

The moderate approach would be considered enough to keep the arena up to date for the next five to 15 years, when it could be replaced.

The aggressive approach is seen as extending the life of the arena by 15 to 25 years.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s trustees, said the next phase of the consultants’ work is critical.

They will help put together cost estimates for the various options, he said, which can be influenced by the choices the task force makes.

For instance, a kitchen would have to be built for the catering capability called for in the moderate approach, but the need for a separate cooking facility could be negated if the task force decided to include a restaurant in the arena.

The consultants will also estimate the various options’ effects on revenue so the task force and the board can factor in how much money can be generated to help pay back bonds issued for the work.

The task force is scheduled to meet with the consultants again in early May.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]