Voters on Tuesday backed a proposal to borrow up to $33 million to renovate the 34-year-old Cumberland County Civic Center.
With 86 percent of precincts reporting, 59 percent of county voters were in favor of the bond and 41 percent were opposed. The count included some large municipalities, such as Portland, where voters backed the bond by a 2-1 margin, and Westbrook. However, the totals at press time did not include a number of sizable communities, including Brunswick and South Portland.
The vote appeared to follow the geographic lines that were predicted, with communities nearest to Portland favoring the renovation proposal.
Many voters in outlying communities say they go to the civic center less often than those who live in and around Portland, and they were expected to oppose the bond.
Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center board, said supporters of the bond were “feeling pretty good” as results came in. The margins against the renovation were not as lopsided as he feared in the outlying towns.
“Farther away from Portland, we’ve held our own,” he said.
Bond supporters argued that without the renovation, the civic center — which opened in 1977 — will lose out on more shows because the facility will be inadequate to attract acts on tour. They said that could end up costing taxpayers, because less revenue means the arena will need an operating subsidy to keep it open.
The renovation plan calls for new premium seating areas, an enlarged lobby, wider concourses, improved concessions and an upgraded box office. There are also plans for a larger loading dock that would be able to handle more elaborate show sets, and improved dressing rooms.
A political action committee, Citizens for a Modern Civic Center, ran ads promoting the renovation as a way to generate construction jobs while securing the jobs of those who already work for the arena. The ads also touted the economic impact of the civic center on downtown Portland restaurants, hotels and shops.
There was no organized opposition to the bond, although selectmen in Harrison and Bridgton circulated open letters calling for it to be rejected. Bridgton voters followed that advice, rejecting the bond 990-525.
Supporters argued that the bond would not raise taxes, although that’s because the county earlier this year retired the bond used to pay for the Cumberland County Jail. The money that had been earmarked for payments on that bond would be shifted to the civic center bond.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]