October 28, 2010

Arena proposal gets nowhere with trustees

Developer Jason Snyder says a new arena outside the city could co-exist with the present Civic Center.

By EDWARD D. MURPHY Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Jason Snyder's plan for a new sports and concert arena ran into a skeptical audience Wednesday: the Cumberland County Civic Center's trustees, who manage the arena in downtown Portland.

Snyder outlined his vision for an arena, with 6,800 seats for hockey and 8,000 for concerts, on property he owns along the Portland-Westbrook city line, adjacent to Interstate 95. He said it would cost about $85 million, with 5 to 20 percent privately funded and the rest coming from taxpayers.

His plan calls for $30 million -- all public money -- to turn the Civic Center into a convention center.

Snyder said an arena outside downtown Portland would be more accessible to most of the county's residents, while the convention center would draw mostly people from out of state, who would stay in downtown hotels and eat and shop in the Old Port.

But the trustees, who are considering a $28 million renovation plan to keep the Civic Center operating as an arena, were dubious about Snyder's plan, suggesting that his proposal has plenty of holes in it.

Many indicated they are unwilling to postpone further consideration of their renovation plan to further research Snyder's proposal.

For one trustee, the reaction went beyond skepticism.

John Menario said Snyder's plan is "unreasonable," "undesirable" and "unacceptable to me."

Snyder caught the trustees off guard by saying he needs a couple of months for a feasibility study to determine whether a new arena makes sense and whether there's a market for a convention center. He also said he wants the Civic Center trustees to pay for the $85,000 study, along with the city of Portland.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the Civic Center's board, said the trustees haven't budgeted any money for a study. Portland officials said Snyder hasn't contacted them about paying for a report, and Snyder said he would need a decision from both parties within a couple of weeks to get the study done by the end of this year.

That would give supporters 10 months to build momentum for a bond proposal to pay for the new arena and Civic Center conversion, which could go on the November 2011 ballot, he said.

Snyder's designer, Jim Swords, said the arena would have 10 luxury suites, along with club and loge premium seating. The Civic Center's renovation plan also calls for loge or club seats, but no suites.

Another consultant, Titus Sitnick, said the arena itself would cost about $51 million, regardless of whether it's built in Portland or a nearby tract that Snyder owns in Westbrook.

Preparing the site in Portland for the building would cost about $14 million, while preparation of the Westbrook site would cost about $10 million because it already has sewer and water lines nearby.

Snyder said he has been advised to back the Portland property because it's politically advantageous to keep the arena in the city. "This is clearly a very Portland-centric board," he said of the trustees.

"Soft costs," such as fees and contingency funds, push the final cost projections to about $80 million for Westbrook and $85 million for Portland, Sitnick told the Civic Center board.

Snyder said he believes that a renovation of the Civic Center would only delay a possibly more extensive reconstruction, in 10 to 15 years, to help the arena keep up with the times.

"Many people feel we're sending good money after bad" with the renovation plan, he said. "The building does not meet the needs of the community."

The only official who spoke in favor of Snyder's plan was Malory Shaughnessy, one of three Cumberland County commissioners. She said Snyder's proposal is interesting and she likes the fact that the new arena might be more accessible to Cumberland County residents who live in towns farther from Portland.

Pratt said after the meeting that he doesn't plan to ask the trustees to act on paying part of the cost of the feasibility study because Snyder never formally asked for a vote.

"The Civic Center's operating on a shoestring as it is," he said. "The presentation (by Snyder) had a conclusion, and now they want to go behind the conclusion and find out if the numbers support the conclusion."

 

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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