January 5, 2012

Portland arena may close while it is renovated

Civic Center trustees will weigh potential savings against loss of revenue in deciding whether to shut down during the upgrade.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Cumberland County Civic Center's trustees will decide soon whether it's worthwhile to close the arena to speed up work on a $33 million renovation project.

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Neal Pratt, chair of the Cumberland County Civic Center board of trustees, discusses the proposed renovations for the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.

Tim Greenway

The trustees met Wednesday morning with a representative of the architectural/engineering firm WBRC, which will do the final design work for the renovation of the 34-year-old arena.

They also voted to issue a "request for qualifications" from construction managers that want to oversee the work, which was approved by county voters in November.

The trustees hope to pick a construction management firm by mid-February, said Neal Pratt, chairman of the board. Once that is done, the trustees will set a project schedule and decide whether to work around concerts, hockey games and other events or shut the doors to allow the work to be done more quickly.

Pratt said the trustees will have to assess the potential savings from shortening the job, particularly while construction costs are down because of the sluggish economy.

He also said there are potential savings from issuing bonds to pay for the work soon, while interest rates are low. Laws limit the ability of government agencies to float bonds long before work will be done and money will be spent.

Pratt said the Civic Center would lose revenue during a shutdown, as would hotels and restaurants downtown.

Shutting down the arena during the summer would not affect the Portland Pirates, because the hockey team doesn't use it during its off-season.

Binga's Stadium Smokehouse and Sports Bar, across Free Street from the Civic Center, has waiting lines out the door on many nights when there are hockey games or concerts at the arena.

But Binga's general manager Peter Burke said there would be little, if any, effect on his business if the Civic Center were to close in the summer. The only events he can remember there after the Pirates' season ended last year were a Jehovah's Witnesses convention in May and an "American Idol" show on Aug. 30.

"The place was dark all summer long," Burke said. "I don't think a shutdown (during the summer) will affect us at all."

Some work will begin this summer, assuming city planners approve the proposal.

Don Dethlefs, a consultant with WBRC, said workers could rebuild the arena's Free Street entrance after a James Taylor concert in late June, the last booking until the fall. He noted that most touring performers switch to outdoor arenas in the summer.

All three corner entrances to the Civic Center -- now indented -- will be squared off as part of the renovation. They also will be reconfigured to allow direct access from sidewalks, rather than stairs.

For instance, the stairs at the corner of Spring and Center streets -- known as the "suicide stairs" because of their steep angle and slick surface in winter -- would be eliminated and ticket holders would enter at ground level.

The renovation would also create premium seating areas and suites, widen the concourses, improve concession and ticket areas, and upgrade backstage facilities, including the loading dock and dressing rooms.

Trustees briefly discussed the design on Wednesday. Trustee Beth Edmonds of Freeport said she looks forward to the arena no longer looking like "a crashed spaceship."

Dethlefs said the redesign would allow for more windows on Spring and Free streets, with more light spilling onto sidewalks, creating a greater sense of activity. He also is working on plans for a new bar and concession area for club-seat ticket holders.

Rob Frank of WBRC said architects will deal with general concepts for the renovation in the next six weeks and begin work on preliminary designs in mid-February.

After feedback from trustees, he said, work on detailed designs would begin in May. Those plans would be completed and reviewed by August, he said, and the architects would then create construction documents for contractors to follow.

Trustees on Wednesday also approved about $80,000 worth of preliminary work, including a 3D scan of the building that will be used in the design work; an assessment of potential environmental hazards, such as the presence of asbestos; and removal of some trees next to the building.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:



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