October 7, 2010

New estimate for arena: $85 million

But civic center trustees remain skeptical, and a task force plans to meet Friday to discuss options.

By Melanie Creamer mcreamer@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A Westbrook man who wants to develop an 8,000-seat sports arena near the Maine Turnpike says he can build it for $80 million to $85 million and clear the way for the Cumberland County Civic Center to be converted to a convention center.

But the civic center's trustees are skeptical of Jason Snyder's plans.

A task force that includes civic center trustees, city and county officials and Brian Petrovek, owner of the Portland Pirates hockey team, will meet Friday to hear a report from consultants estimating the cost and economic return for various upgrades to the civic center. The proposed changes range from adding premium seating to improvements to the loading dock, backstage facilities and box office.

The task force is expected to make its recommendation to the trustees Friday.

Snyder was supposed to meet with the trustees last month to talk about his proposal, which he initially priced at $63 million if built on land he owns in Westbrook or $69 million if built on his property in Portland. But he asked to postpone the meeting until this month or November.

In a letter to Snyder dated Sept. 20, Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees, asked a dozen questions related to the cost of Snyder's proposal and financing for the project. Pratt said in his letter that, with parking facilities, utility upgrades, access roads and additional expenses, "isn't an arena's more likely cost something in the range of $100 million?"

Snyder's proposal, in a letter to Pratt dated Oct. 1, doesn't include costs for a parking garage, which Pratt says would cost about $10 million to build.

Snyder's letter, which includes responses to Pratt's 12 questions, also says the $80 million to $85 million price estimate doesn't include "soft costs," such as legal fees, architecture and engineering, which he said could be in the range of 15 to 25 percent.

"He leaves as many questions as he attempts to answer," Pratt said Wednesday. "Given the cost and absence of information, I don't have a lot of optimism that those questions will be answered quickly enough to warrant setting aside the plans we have worked so diligently on."

Snyder did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

The civic center's board has been working on a long-range plan for the 33-year-old arena for many years. If the task force approves the consultant's renovation plan on Friday, it's expected to recommend that plan to the trustees. The board would then vote on the plan.

Voters likely will decide in November 2011 whether to approve a bond to pay for renovations.

Snyder has proposed building an arena on one of two sites he owns near the Maine Turnpike, in Portland and Westbrook, near exits 46 and 47.

The project would include a 187,000-square-foot arena, surface parking for 2,500 vehicles and, if built in Portland, a three-lane vehicle bridge and access road, all encompassing about 18 to 20 acres. He says a parking garage would be built in "future phases" as the site is developed.

In his letter to Pratt, Snyder was unclear on whether he would sell his land to either city, what he would ask for the land and whether he has any financial commitments from the governor, state agencies or municipal governments.

"I have had only some very informal and preliminary conversations (with those sources)," Snyder wrote.

Snyder estimated that 5 to 20 percent of the cost would come from private sources.

Pratt said Snyder's responses lack substance. "They are some of the most vital threshold questions that dictate the potential success or failure of any proposal."

Pratt expects trustees will act quickly, but a vote on any task force recommendation has not been scheduled. He said he also will hear Snyder's proposal.

"I have tried really hard with Mr. Snyder to give his proposal a fair opportunity to be heard," Pratt said. "We want to hear it so long as it is done quickly."

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

 

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