In an effort to reduce costs, the building committee for the Cumberland County Civic Center has tentatively voted to remove several major features from its $33 million renovation proposal, which will likely go to voters in November.

The amended plan eliminates loge boxes, improved loading docks and new administrative offices, reducing the cost by about $2.8 million.

If the changes become part of the permanent plan, it will deal a major blow to the Portland Pirates hockey organization, which plays at the civic center and stands to benefit most from new loge boxes and offices.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s board of trustees and a member of the building committee, noted that the vote was just a “straw poll.” The 30-member committee continues to analyze the potential costs and benefits of each proposed piece of the project, he said.

But the vote may reflect a hesitancy among committee members to use taxpayer dollars to benefit a private company, Pratt said.

“The balancing act is, we want to do right by the hockey team, and help make them competitive and a viable business that supports Cumberland County,” he said. “But we also have to balance and decide how much taxpayer dollars should get committed to that effort.”

Pirates owner Brian Petrovek declined to comment Thursday. He referred all questions about the committee to co-chairmen Joseph Bruno and James Cloutier.

The Pirates’ contract with the civic center expires in April 2012, and they could leave Portland when it does.

In March 2010, before signing a two-year extension with the civic center, Petrovek negotiated to move the American Hockey League team to Albany, N.Y. The Pirates also have plans to build a year-round practice facility in Saco.

The Pirates recently got a new National Hockey League affiliate, switching from the Buffalo Sabres to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Pratt doesn’t think the exclusion of loge boxes or new offices from the renovation plan will drive the Pirates away.

“The Pirates have been an integral part of these discussions, so we always want to accommodate them,” he said. “But when we’re representing the taxpayers, there’s only so far we can go to ensure the referendum gets approved.

“The renovations will still benefit (the Pirates) and generate more revenue,” he said. “I have not understood at all from the Pirates that any of these things are a deal-breaker.”

If the Pirates don’t stay, the renovations will help make the civic center an attractive venue for other professional hockey teams. “Everybody understands this is a good hockey market,” Pratt said. “The Pirates understand that, too.”

The loge boxes and the improved loading docks were major pieces of the renovation proposal when public discussion began last fall.

The boxes — basically small, open luxury boxes — could be sold to businesses for as much as $2,500 per seat per season, Petrovek said. Companies often use luxury boxes to treat employees and clients to a night out.

While those seats are often easy to sell for sporting events, they don’t always sell as well for other events, such as concerts, “Disney on Ice” or other programming, committee members said.

Each loge seat takes up twice as much space as a regular seat, so adding them would reduce the venue’s total number of seats by as many as 80.

Because of that, if the civic center can’t sell the loge seats for higher prices, it may actually lose money on them during non-Pirates events.

“They’re attractive for a sports team, absolutely,” said Paul Stevens, the project’s architect. “But they don’t provide any benefit for concerts, which are one of the larger money-makers for the civic center. … We’re looking at the whole picture.”

As designed, the project would cost an estimated $33 million. Committee members said they’re trying to trim that number.

The project includes improving the restrooms, making the civic center handicapped-accessible, increasing the number of concessions, making electrical upgrades and expanding the concourse space to make moving around easier.

The renovation also would add a Captains Club, which could be used for event space and high-end concessions and generate extra revenue.

Officials concede that $33 million is a tough sell in these economic times. But they will try to convince the public with two arguments:

First, the project won’t increase taxes. The county recently paid off its debt for the Cumberland County Jail, and with the current low interest rates, property taxes may even decrease.

Second, the cost of inaction could be much more than $33 million.

“The cost of doing nothing isn’t nothing,” Stevens said. “A tired building is going to attract less business from both sides. As it deteriorates, less events will want to come, and likewise, less people will want to come to watch those events.”

In terms of the loading docks, officials said they’re not necessarily an immediate concern. Last fall, a consultant for the project said small loading docks deterred some performers from coming to the civic center because it took so long to unload equipment, which in turn cost promoters money.

But building committee co-chairman Cloutier, who is also a Cumberland County commissioner, said some civic center staff have since reported that the docks haven’t been a major problem. Furthermore, it’s not interwoven with other renovations, so the county could always address the $1.75 million dock issue at a later date.

The committee will meet again Wednesday to decide on its final recommendation. The center’s board of trustees must then approve the plan in early August, before county commissioners vote on it Aug. 8.

If passed by all three, a referendum would then go onto the November ballot, where voters would decide if the county should borrow money for the renovation.

Committee members said they can’t negotiate a new contract with the Pirates until the renovation plan has been finalized.

“You can’t split up a pie until you know what the pie looks like,” Pratt said. But he said the fact that the Pirates have been “active partners” in the renovations — Petrovek is on the building committee and has funded some of its work — shows the Pirates have an interest in staying in Portland.

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at:

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