If the city of Portland and Cumberland County had a nickel for every proposal to redo or raze the county civic center and create a sports-and-concert venue and/or a convention center somewhere in town, they could build them both.

Well, OK, they would still only have a couple of dimes, or maybe a quarter.

Still, there is something both hopeful and yet sadly familiar about developer Jason Snyder’s proposal to build a sports arena and business complex off Stroudwater Street on one side or the other of the Portland-Westbrook line.

Briefly, Snyder wants to build an 8,000-seat arena on land he owns either in Westbrook or nearby in Portland that potentially would host Portland Pirates hockey and Red Claws basketball, as well as offering the space that major national artists and productions now fail to find in Maine. The estimated cost at either site is upwards of $60 million.

Both sites would be close to the proposed location of an already approved, 1.6-million-square-foot retail and commercial complex that Snyder calls Stroudwater Place, which remains on the drawing board. The projected cost of building it is $300 million.

In addition, Snyder proposes that the current civic center be transformed at a cost of about $30 million into a convention venue.


The city does not currently have room to host larger national business or affinity-group conventions that other (arguably less-attractive) cities draw on a regular basis. Snyder did not specify where that money would come from, but convention-goers are highly desirable visitors.

Not only do they spend money on local services and goods, but they often combine such events with longer vacations that greatly expand revenue opportunities for businesses in host communities and regions.

Of course, there’s more than one problem with Snyder’s vision — in fact, there are about 100 million of them. Snyder and his backers may have the wherewithal to finance an arena, but it would be up to the citizens of Cumberland County, which owns the civic center, to pay for its improvement.

Snyder’s proposal appears to be an effort to suggest to the county a way to recoup the losses it would incur if the Pirates, one of its prime tenants (but not its sole source of income), were persuaded to move. Whether that plan is viable remains in serious doubt.

A decade ago, Portland had to turn down a $20 million offer from the Libra Foundation for an arena complex on seven acres of donated land in Bayside because the city couldn’t come up with the additional tens of millions such a venue would require. It’s unlikely there’s more money floating around now than then.

Another vision emerged six years ago when real estate mogul Joseph Boulos proposed a $245 million office-hotel-convention center complex to be called Lincoln Center. Boulos wanted to build a 17-story building with 300,000 square feet of office space.

The Lincoln Center plan collapsed when Boulos was unable to convince the Maine Legislature to support public financing for convention centers.

Meanwhile, numerous proposals to renovate the civic center have been raised for years without anything truly substantial flowing from them, although the Pirates and center officials have agreed on a two-year plan for limited renovations to support hockey there in better ways.


But such plans have a limited scope and do nothing to support the larger vision of attracting conventions. The county still would have to bear all the costs of a major renovation, without any source of additional revenue except the fees paid by regular and one-time civic center users.

Local officials say studies show that convention centers themselves do well by merely breaking even, raising enough money to pay the costs of their operation but rarely providing much additional revenue to their owners.

The money spent outside the center by conventioneers would go to local business owners in revenue, thus sustaining or creating jobs and affecting property taxes, with the rest going to the state in sales tax receipts.

However, little or no money would be available to pay off county bonds that would be the major source of any improvement funding. That is why local officials have long sought the authority for a “local option” sales tax that could be dedicated to such bonds. But that request has been routinely denied by state legislators, whose approval is necessary to create such a tax.

Still, Snyder’s proposal is a truly hopeful sign. Someone with resources thinks Greater Portland is a place worthy of substantial investment, and there are meetings to come in which further details of his plan are promised to be revealed.

But many parties are involved, and many hurdles remain to be overcome, before a vision as ambitious as this one can be realized.

Hope is a good thing, but as we have seen for decades, when it comes to a sports arena and/or a convention center, the bridge that spans the canyon dividing those dreams from reality remains to be constructed.