April 28, 2011

Benefits of new Claws venue listed

Better seating and parking would be among the advantages of an arena that may be ready in 2013.

The Maine Red Claws will open the 2013 NBA Development League season in a swanky new 3,500-seat arena if all goes according to plan.

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Bill Ryan Jr., left, and Jon Jennings, two co-owners of the Red Claws, examine details of a proposed arena.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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General Manager Jon Jennings and Bill Ryan Jr., two principal owners of the team, unveiled a $100 million development plan Wednesday for a convention center on Thompson's Point in Portland that includes a concert hall, basketball arena, restaurant, hotel and more.

The game experience, they say, will be similar to what fans have had in the cozy revamped Portland Expo, but with far more comfortable seating, luxury boxes, and a bar and restaurant for the more casual fan.

More details will be explained at a 10 a.m. press conference today.

"Though we're growing, we're maintaining the intimacy we have at the Expo," said Jennings. "That goes to the core of the success we've had. The fans truly get to be a part of the action without putting a uniform on."

In two years in Portland, the Red Claws have sold out every home game at the 3,040-seat Expo, filling the stands with fans like Marie Bourque-Namer, a season-ticket holder from Bath.

"That's awesome. It sounds great," said Bourque-Namer, who expects a new venue likely would trump the limitations of the Expo.

She has heard fans complain about uncomfortable bleacher seats, the lack of area to store a bulky coat, or the need to walk three-quarters of the way around the court perimeter to reach seats past the scorer's table.

She once asked a fellow season-ticket holder to join her in Section 3, which is close to where the team jogs onto the court from the locker rooms.

"He thought about it but didn't want to join us because you have to go all the way around," she said. "There are things they'll address like that, I'm sure. It sounds really exciting."

Jennings said the franchise is two years into a five-year contract at the Expo with the city of Portland, with an option for five more years.

The new development wouldn't break ground until the spring of 2012, which means the Red Claws will play at least two more seasons at the Expo, then possibly have to buy out one year of the contract.

"We've always been very happy at the Expo but knew there would be a day we had to upgrade the seating," said Jennings.

The Expo is a favorite of players, who say the atmosphere can't be beat in the D-League.

"I liked it better than any other place we played," said guard Kenny Hayes. "The crowd is right there on you. It motivates you to play harder."

He said the added perks of a new venue would have to keep that closeness in mind.

"It would be really nice. As long as the fans come and support and that same atmosphere is created, I think it would be great," he said. "I don't think any player would turn down a new arena."

It also would end the occasional conflicts with high school tournament and Portland High teams that meant the Red Claws had to practice elsewhere.

"I know sharing it sometimes meant we couldn't get into the gym early," Hayes said. "It would be great to be able to get in there anytime."

Luxury boxes will generate more revenue, and groups will have meeting space before and after games.

Concession upgrades, naming rights and more bathrooms are also upsides to a new venue.

"The Expo is a great venue but there are some limitations there we wouldn't have here," said Bill Ryan Jr. "We would (currently) have a lot more groups but don't have the capacity to handle them."

The development would include 1,450 parking spaces, including a 700-space garage. That trumps the parking available at the Expo and adjacent Fitzpatrick Stadium.

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

jmenendez@pressherald.com

 

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