WESTBROOK – A developer has proposed building an 8,000-seat sports and entertainment arena on one of two sites he owns near the Maine Turnpike in Portland and Westbrook.
Jason Snyder wants to build the arena in conjunction with his proposed Stroudwater Place, a $300 million, 1.6 million-square-foot retail and commercial development in Westbrook.
He has also proposed to convert the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland into a convention center, and asked the Portland Pirates to be the flagship tenant of the new arena.
Snyder’s proposal calls for a 150,000-square-foot arena on a 63-acre site in Portland or on a 60-acre site in Westbrook between exits 46 and 47 of the turnpike. Snyder said the arena would attract high-level entertainers and host other teams such as the Maine Red Claws.
He said the venue could draw the popular bands that don’t come to Maine now.
“The civic center has served a very viable and important purpose, but the reality is that the state of Maine has been losing a lot of business because they don’t have a facility that would draw larger acts,” Snyder said. “With the right venue, they will come.”
The estimated costs to build the arena are $68.7 million in Portland and $63.1 million in Westbrook. Snyder said the project would be paid for through bond financing, bank financing and private investment. He said he plans to meet with county officials next week to discuss financing options.
Snyder has pitched his proposal to officials in Portland and Westbrook; the Cumberland County commissioners; Brian Petrovek, the Pirates’ CEO and managing owner; and Mark Maroon, vice chairman of the civic center’s board of trustees.
It’s an interesting idea, said Greg Mitchell, Portland’s economic development director.
“We need to know more specifics,” Mitchell said. “I need to know that we have a real project behind his outline. It’s important to the city to retain the economic activities associated with the civic center in Portland.”
The Portland Pirates’ owners are looking for a permanent home for the American Hockey League team. In March, Petrovek and the civic center’s trustees agreed on a two-year lease.
At the same time, they agreed to work together to renovate the 33-year-old arena. Petrovek met with Snyder around the time he considered moving the team to the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
Petrovek said he’s intrigued by Snyder’s proposal, but is also considering a proposal by a group in Saco that wants to build a hockey arena there.
“We need to look at all the options,” Petrovek said. “Our number one focus is in renovating the civic center. We desperately need something if we want to have a sustainable business. We can’t live on a lease.”
Snyder commissioned his own study to retrofit and renovate the civic center. He said it would cost about $30 million to convert it to a convention center.
He said more than 400,000 people visited the civic center last year, of which 30 percent were Pirates’ fans.
Snyder said a convention center would draw more people who would stay in Portland for two to four days, as opposed to two to three hours for a concert. He said the change would give an economic boost to nearby restaurants and other businesses.
“This is about economic development for the region,” Snyder said. “The benefit to businesses in the Old Port and to the city of Portland will be many-fold.”
Snyder’s proposed sports arena would be built near the mixed-use development he has proposed. Plans for Stroudwater Place include an ice-skating rink, a farmers market and public space.
Snyder owns the 60 acres he wants to build on, between the Westbrook Arterial and Stroudwater Street in Westbrook, just off exit 47 of the turnpike. Snyder’s business partner, Arthur Emil, is a prominent lawyer and developer from New York.
Snyder said the project was put on hold during the economic downturn.
“We said it would be a 10-year build-out,” Snyder said. “We would have liked to have a shovel in the ground by now, but that’s not the reality of the world we are in. It will continue to move forward. It will be built.”
Stroudwater Place was approved by the Westbrook City Council in December 2008. Jerre Bryant, the city administrator, said Snyder will need a site plan review before starting the project.
“This is an exciting jump-start to a project that has been waiting out a tough economic period,” Bryant said. “(A sports arena) would be a great anchor to Stroudwater Place.”
Some residents say the development would change the rural character of the area. Lou Randall, a co-owner of the farm across Stroudwater Street from the site for Stroudwater Place, opposes the project.
Randall, who owns 45 acres next to Snyder’s property, said Snyder has offered to buy his land.
“I won’t sell to him,” he said. “They don’t have enough land to do what they want to do. Where is he going to park the people? Where is he going to put the snow?”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]