Days before the first event at the renovated Cumberland County Civic Center, a tour of the building on Monday featured new luxury boxes, bigger locker rooms, wider concourses and many more women’s restrooms.
“We knew we had to make it a spectacular place,” said Joe Bruno, a civic center trustee, as he walked through the main lobby on Spring Street, one part of the county-owned building that the $34 million project changed most dramatically.
The new space encloses what was an outdoor courtyard. Inside the expanded lobby are two box offices, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a concession stand for Maine microbrewed beer. There’s also a glass-enclosed room in the entryway for sponsors or promotions.
The newly enclosed corners of the 37-year-old building have glass walls, several with etched images of figure skaters, hockey players and concert scenes.
Once-crammed concourses have been widened by as much as 4 feet to make it easier to walk around the building.
In the arena itself, maroon-cushioned seating has replaced hard plastic seats, and in the corners are six luxury boxes, two of them already sold, said Roberta Wright, marketing director for the civic center.
The first event in the renovated arena will be the 24th annual Maine Home, Remodeling and Garden Show, this weekend.
Men in hard hats and yellow vests were still working on the building Monday, with welders and painters finishing up their work. The smell of paint was still strong.
Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees, is glad the work is coming to an end.
“It’s been such a long time in coming,” he said as he walked through the backstage area, with expanded entryways to the main floor and three truck bays instead of the single bay that the building had previously. Off to the side is a new industrial-use kitchen, which will allow more elaborate food preparation on site.
The trustees put a major headache behind them this month, finally signing a five-year lease with the civic center’s primary tenant, the Portland Pirates. Lease negotiations fell apart last summer, mostly over the division of revenue from food and liquor sales, and the team decided to play all of this season’s home games in Lewiston.
The American Hockey League team will return to the civic center in the fall.
Many of the renovations addressed physical drawbacks in the building, which first opened in 1977 at a cost of $7 million – which would be $32 million in 2013 dollars.
In the main lobby, for example, ticket holders had to get through lines of people waiting to buy tickets.
Navigating the long concourses along Spring and Free streets was often difficult when the walkways were blocked by people lined up for concessions or to use the restrooms. Those concourses have been widened, and concessions and restrooms have been moved to improve traffic flow.
The 15-month renovation was funded by bonds approved by Cumberland County voters in 2011. Final figures aren’t available yet, but trustees said the project will end just slightly over budget.
Changes along the way included the elimination of a plan to add seating suspended from the ceiling, which saved $2.5 million, and a decision to spend a few hundred thousand more on acrylic flooring, instead of stained concrete, on the main concourses.
Pratt said the biggest unexpected cost overrun was keeping the building heated for workers, and losing work time to snowstorms. “This winter was tough,” Bruno said.
“But overall, we got a lot of bang for our buck,” Pratt said.
Several changes will save money and energy: Gone are the external stairs that workers had to shovel, including the steep “suicide stairs” at the corner of Spring and Center streets, which were never used but had to be kept clear as fire exits.
And the open courtyards are now enclosed. Adding those spaces at the corners of the civic center softened the jagged edges of the 1970s design, and added 37,408 square feet of indoor space.
The expanded truck bay area is also enclosed, so workers can close the doors to the street once the trucks pull inside. In the past, the arena lost heat whenever a truck pulled in.
Perhaps the most notable change is the number of women’s restrooms. The renovated building has 76 toilets in the women’s restrooms, compared with 30 in the past. The entire facility now has 173 toilets, up from 86.
Before the renovation, when long lines for the restrooms stretched into the concourse, “It was terrible!” said Wright, the marketing director. She pointed out a new “family” restroom in the lobby, and expanded women’s rooms in the corners of the building.
“There are more (toilets) in this one bathroom than there were in the entire facility before,” she said, leading the tour through one of the expanded women’s rooms.
The arena’s capacity is flexible, with seating for more than 8,000 for some events, depending on the configuration. The capacity for hockey games is about 7,000.
The locker rooms also got a major upgrade, with added space that can handle high school tournaments, which previously posed a problem. Each locker room can be divided by sliding interior walls, creating as many as 70 individual locker rooms if needed.
Another big change is the more than half-dozen flexible spaces throughout the building, some on the second floor overlooking Portland Harbor, others in the main lobby, that can be used for private events or promotions.
The one with the best view, on the second floor at the corner of Spring and Center streets, is called the Port Pavilion, said Wright. It is part of the public venue but can be closed off for a private event, and it has stairs to the backstage area so a performer can use it.
Wright said, “It may be the little bit more we can offer to keep us in the game” and make the venue more attractive for big acts.
Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at: