The University of Maine intends to bid to host the America East basketball tournament at the site of a development proposed in Portland that will house a 3,500-seat basketball arena.

Maine Athletic Director Steve Abbott said he has had preliminary conversations with Maine Red Claws General Manager Jon Jennings and conference officials about bringing the tournament to Portland in the next several years.

The arena, which would be home to the Red Claws and part of a larger convention center and entertainment complex, would simply provide the perfect venue, Abbott said.

The development proposal was unveiled Thursday at Portland City Hall. It is projected to be ready for the 2013-14 basketball season.

“This would be a fantastic venue for (the tournament),” said Abbott. “(Jennings) and I met with America East officials already, and they were more than receptive about coming to Portland. They loved the idea.”

The group had talked about hosting the conference tournament at the Portland Expo, the current home of the Red Claws, but Abbott said Maine will now wait to bid.

“We’re very interested in putting in a bid at some point to host the America East tournament in Portland, and this new facility would give us a great opportunity to do that,” Abbott said.

America East Commissioner Patrick Nero said he is certainly behind Portland as a host city.

“I think Portland as a city could put on a great tournament. I think people would love Portland,” said Nero, who has accepted a position at George Washington University and will be leaving the conference.

The bid process, said Nero, is simple and straightforward and is awarded one year out from hosting.

He said multiyear bids are also considered to allow for flexibility for host schools.

“This is exactly why we believe a new facility is needed in Portland,” said Jennings, who is also a primary member of the development group. “Our ability to bring in all of those basketball teams, men and women, the families who will be following them, the players and media … it’s an extraordinary opportunity.

“We did have preliminary meetings and they have a very strong interest in Maine. We hope we can make that happen.”

America East has held its conference tournament at Chase Family Arena on the campus of the University of Hartford in Hartford, Conn., for the past two seasons. The building seats 4,017.

The new development planned at Thompson’s Point would also include a hotel and restaurants.

The added benefit of Portland being two hours south of Orono is it’s ability to be a true neutral site.

“A neutral site is appealing for a conference,” said Abbott.

Bill Ryan Jr., a principal owner of the Red Claws and a primary member of the new development group, said he envisions multiple college tournaments being hosted there.

“I think it’s something where there’s been an interest but just not the right spot to do it. I think the site would be perfect for it,” Ryan said.

“And for our purposes, we want to keep this facility busy as much as we can.”

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

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