PORTLAND – It may be 2011, but there are a lot of echoes of the 1970s when the talk turns to a $33 million bond for the Cumberland County Civic Center that’s on the ballot next week.

Officials in Portland and nearby towns support the bond, noting the jobs that the center already provides and those that will come with an overhaul of the 34-year-old arena. But the enthusiasm often wanes with distance from Portland – selectmen in Bridgton and Harrison have issued proclamations calling on voters to defeat the bond proposal.

That’s similar to the fight over the original bond to build the center, which was backed by residents in and around Portland, but opposed by those in the county farther from the city.

For Neil Pratt, the head of the Cumberland County Civic Center’s board, residents should either pass the bond to renovate the aging arena or watch it lose more and more business.

“It’s fading into obsolescence,” he said, and needs to be brought into the 21st century, with new seating – including premium seats – improved concessions and better backstage facilities demanded by today’s touring shows.

A political action committee backing the modernization is running television ads highlighting the jobs the center supports and those that will be generated by the renovation, along with the overall economic impact of people coming to shows and spending money at restaurants, shops and hotels.

Pratt said that impact goes beyond Portland because many of the people who work in those businesses live outside of Portland and the center also relies on vendors from throughout southern Maine.

“People have to be willing to look beyond their own initial reactions, which might be geographically based, rather than economically based,” he said.

Pratt also said that if the bond fails, the civic center will soon attract fewer shows. Instead of breaking even, as it does most years, the center could soon need a subsidy to keep operating.

Pratt said the cvic center made a donation of $35,000 to the PAC that’s been running the ads, but no taxpayer money was involved. The civic center raised about $250,000 in donations over the last few years, he said, to pay for some minor improvements such as the new electronic message board near the Spring Street entrance and the banners covering many of the windows on the center.

He said the donors to the “modernization and marketing” fund were told that some of the money might go into the campaign for the bond.

There’s been no organized opposition to the bond, but many observers have noted it may be hard to win over voters in outlying towns in a year when the economy is struggling.

The effort’s supporters say it won’t raise taxes, but that’s because the $1 million or so annually in county funds that would be needed to pay back the bonds had been going to pay off the bonds for the county jail. Those bonds were retired earlier this year, so while the bottom line will likely mean no increase in the tax rate, a possible drop in the taxes won’t be possible with the new civic center bond.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]