October 11, 2010

Our View: Civic Center plans
don't sparkle at first sight

The public will need a lot more information before supporting a $29 million fix-up.

You might want to call it the "Peggy Lee Civic Center." That would name the facility for the pop chanteuse who gave the world the song "Is that all there is?"

click image to enlarge

The Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.

Press Herald file photo

The plan for revamping the 33-year-old Cumberland County Civic Center approved Friday by a unanimous task force seems a little underwhelming, especially after months of anticipation of a report from the consultants who analyzed the market as well as the building.

The most eye-catching part of the plan is the price tag, an estimated $28 million to $29 million, to upgrade the facility but not add any seats.


The task force's recommendation will travel a complex road, eventually requiring the approval of the civic center's board and the public, probably in a referendum next year.

There will be plenty of time to pass judgment before then, but there are already some arguments in favor of this proposal that make up for its lack of initial excitement. While the plan proposes adding some loge seating and enhanced concession offerings, most of the investment would be improving the backstage facilities which, more than the number of seats, limit big touring acts from playing Portland.

And there are still details that need to be fully explained about the way a renovated civic center would use exterior space, especially on Free Street, during events. The outdoor concession stands at Fenway Park are one of the old stadium's most popular recent additions.

Civic Center Board of Trustees President Neal Pratt says he entered this process believing that a brand new building is what's needed. Now he endorses this plan.

He and the other trustees have about a year to bring the rest of us along to their way of thinking, if the plan is to pass at referendum next year.

Until then we have to ask, is that all there is?


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