PORTLAND – The building committee for the Cumberland County Civic Center was unable to reach agreement Wednesday on how much money to seek in a bond proposal to renovate the 34-year-old downtown venue.

Instead, committee members will likely leave it up to the civic center’s eight trustees to make the final recommendation.

The 30-person building committee voted on three proposals: one for $30 million, one for $32 million and another for $33 million. None earned a majority of votes.

All but one committee member wanted to go forward with the renovations.

“We’re all rowing in the same direction,” said co-chairman Neal Pratt. “But there were slight differences of opinion on that final number.”

The issue, committee members said, is that they don’t want to raise taxes on Cumberland County residents. The county recently finished paying off its debt for the county jail, which allows it to take on some new debt without affecting the tax rate, and possibly even lowering it.

But with hard-to-calculate variables like changing interest rates, construction costs and projected revenues, there was disagreement on how much money the county could borrow for the civic center while still achieving the goal of no tax increase.

Even at $33 million and under the most conservative projections for revenues, the largest tax increase for a property owner would likely be about $10 per year, said committee co-chairman Joe Bruno.

The inability to come to an agreement disappointed Portland Pirates owner Brian Petrovek, one of the committee members. The American Hockey League team is the civic center’s principal tenant.

If the committee “just did a little more work,” like agreeing on how it would split up projected revenues and how much would go toward paying off debt, it could have reached a hard number, Petrovek said.

“We’ve put in so much time, so much energy, so much hard work over the last couple years,” he said. “We have a whole week before the trustees meet (on Aug. 3). We should meet again and finish the job.”

Part of the issue, Petrovek said, is negotiating a long-term lease between the Pirates and the civic center. The Pirates may be willing to fund some of the renovations if the civic center is willing to give the Pirates a larger cut of advertisement, concessions or other revenues.

That would reduce the burden on taxpayers, and by having all of the pieces in place — including a long-term tenant — the building committee could make a specific recommendation to the trustees and present it to the public, Petrovek said.

“We’ve expressed an interest and a desire to have a long-term relationship with this building, and to make an investment in this building,” he said. “We’re willing and able to have a serious conversation about the public-private partnership. And right now is the time we should be having it.”

Regardless of the amount the county asks to borrow — whether it’s $30 million, $32 million or $33 million — the scope of the project likely wouldn’t change much.

Based on the recommendation of building committee members, the proposal will likely include improving the restrooms and loading docks, making the civic center handicapped-accessible, increasing the number of concessions, making electrical upgrades and expanding the concourse space to make walking around easier.

The plan, however, likely will not include loge boxes or new offices for the Pirates, both of which the hockey organization pushed for. That could change if the Pirates and civic center reach a long-term lease and the Pirates agree to fund some of the renovations.

Even if that happens, some building committee members may resist loge boxes — basically small luxury boxes — under any circumstances.

One loge box seat takes up the same space as three regular seats, so if they don’t sell, it could cost the county revenue in the long run. And while loge boxes often sell well for sporting events, they often don’t sell for non-sporting events, committee members and their consultants said.

Petrovek said that’s only true for some venues and it wouldn’t necessarily apply to the civic center.

In 2010, the civic center was used on 130 days. The Pirates used it on 41 of those days, or about 32 percent of the time, said Steve Crane, the civic center’s manager.

The county may have a tough time selling any bond to the public in November, even if it doesn’t raise taxes. Some residents have said they’d prefer a tax decrease.

But county officials and committee members argue that the cost of doing nothing isn’t nothing.

“A tired building is going to attract less business from both sides,” said architect Paul Stevens. “As it deteriorates, less events will want to come, and likewise, less people will want to come to watch those events.”

County officials cited other long-standing New England venues — like Merrill Auditorium and Fenway Park — as examples of a building’s staying power if the owners invest in quality renovations. Each of those buildings has had significant renovations every few decades, but the civic center hasn’t had any major renovations since it was built in 1977, committee members said.

Not all committee members think renovations are a good idea. County commissioner Susan Witonis doesn’t support them, according to those who attended Wednesday’s meeting. Witonis didn’t reply to a message seeking comment.

If the committee doesn’t agree to meet again, the civic center’s trustees will likely approve one of the three proposals next Wednesday. The county commissioners would then vote on Aug. 8 whether or not to send the bond proposal to voters.

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

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