FREEPORT – A handful of people turned out Thursday night for a public hearing on the prospective $33 million renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Among them was Charles Leavitt, a selectman in Raymond, who asked, “How would this benefit those who live outside of the city?”

Thursday night’s hearing was the second of three scheduled before a hearing Aug. 8 at which the Cumberland County commissioners will decide whether to seek voters’ approval in November for funding for the renovation.

County commissioners, civic center trustees, planners, a financial adviser and an architect said Thursday that it would cost more to do nothing to the arena because it could lose its ability to compete for events with privately developed projects like the proposed Forefront at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

“There is no option here that will cost nothing. In fact, doing nothing may create a problem that is more expensive to taxpayers,” said Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees. “The civic center as an economic engine has increased the quality of life for people of Cumberland County. It makes sense economically, culturally, and from a quality-of-life standpoint, to fund this project.”

Other reasons to move forward with the project, cited by the board members, include low interest rates and construction rates, and economic benefits for the region’s restaurant, hotels and gas stations as people come to attend shows.

“We have this. It’s been helping us for a long time. We need to keep it up,” said Jim Cloutier, co-chair of the building committee that’s planning the renovation.

The county will retire a $2.1 million annual debt payment for the county jail, which will free up money to go toward the civic center renovation, easing the burden on taxpayers.

Mark Grover, who is running for county commissioner and collects public opinion on his website, said that without the project, county taxes would go down.

Grover said the resounding feedback from people who have been asked whether the renovation should be funded has been “no” or “not yet.”

But with sparse attendance at the two hearings so far and not much public opposition, Leavitt said the bond is still likely to pass.

Staff Writer Colleen Stewart can be contacted at 791-6355 or at:

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