PORTLAND — Supporters of a proposed $33 million bond to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center kicked off an effort Wednesday to persuade voters to approve the borrowing on Nov. 8.

Using the civic center as a backdrop, a handful of speakers at a news conference said the renovation would more than pay for itself by ensuring that the arena continues to support the local economy, provide jobs and give families a place to enjoy hockey games, skating shows and concerts.

“We must invest in Cumberland County, and the time to do it is now,” said Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s board of trustees. “We have a choice between investing $33 million or doing nothing and allowing (the civic center) to become physically and economically obsolete. Doing nothing costs more.”

Pratt said he remembers going to a baseball game at Fenway Park in the late 1990s and standing in a long line to use the men’s room. Others in line, irritated by the aging stadium’s shortcomings, started chanting, “Tear it down,” he said.

But now, new owners have poured money into the park, and Fenway is an icon as it approaches its 100th anniversary.

“The parallel (with the civic center) is evident,” Pratt said.

Supporters also used the event to show renderings of the exterior of a renovated civic center.

The design by Paul Stevens of SMRT Inc. would square off what are now indented corners of the building, providing street-level access and significantly increasing the space for the concourse around the seating “bowl” and the concession area.

Stevens said his design calls for more glass along the side facing Free Street and a panel of fabric ringing the building. The fabric could be illuminated in various colors, he said, and could display graphics, enhancing the feel of an active area.

John Menario, who resigned from the civic center board to run the campaign supporting the bond, said he would be disappointed if less than $100,000 is raised to pay for consultants, polls and radio and television ads. The campaign already has attracted about $65,000, Menario said, about 70 percent of it from individuals.

The political action committee formed to support the bond is called Citizens for a Modern Civic Center.

There’s no formal opposition to the proposal, but Malory Shaughnessy, a former Cumberland County commissioner, said in a telephone interview that “there’s a huge unorganized dissent.”

Shaughnessy said the borrowing will likely be opposed by taxpayers concerned about the cost, and by county residents outside Greater Portland who see the publicly owned civic center as an amenity they rarely use.

Pratt said the bond is not expected to increase taxes because earlier this year, the county paid off the bond that funded construction of the county jail. The $1 million a year that the county spent to retire that bond would simply be shifted to the civic center bond, he said.

That, along with the increased revenue that the arena would generate, would be enough to pay for the financing, he said.

Shaughnessy said the new obligation would negate the possibility of a tax decrease or using the money for other purposes.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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