PORTLAND – The committee that’s overseeing the renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center favors building a bank of suites on the west end of the arena, intended to be attractive for concerts.

With work expected to start in two months, the building committee is paring the project’s construction budget to about $28 million. Its latest plan revolves around premium seating.

A consultant’s report, released Wednesday, says the 11 luxury suites that the building committee has been considering would be about right for the Greater Portland market. But committee members felt the planned locations for the suites were wrong.

Four suites around the edge of the ice rink will stay in the plan, but the committee decided to scrap four suites from the east end of the arena because they would be behind the stage for concerts.

Two of the four “sky level” suites, high above the floor, and two on the concourse level on the east end will be eliminated, pending a consultant’s assessment of the marketability of having the suites on only the west end.

Two mid-level suites — between the concourse and the sky level — would be added on the west end.

The committee also scrapped 260 sky club seats, which would have been attached to a walkway around the upper level, connecting the four sky level suites. At $2.5 million, the committee felt the walkway and the four suites would be too costly.

Part of the reasoning was a consultant’s finding that the Civic Center would be overloaded with premium seats under the plan proposed before Wednesday.

The consultant, Conventions, Sports & Leisure, said the number of suites — pared from 11 to 10 based on Wednesday’s reconfiguration — would be about right for the market, but the number of club seats would be too high.

The plan called for 862 premium seats in the renovated arena, but the consultant said Portland’s market will support fewer than half that number. Eliminating the sky club seats and one suite will reduce the number of premium seats, but the number still will be above the consultant’s target figure.

The firm based its analysis on factors such as the age and size of the population, income levels and the number of corporate headquarters in the community.

Its assessment was that Portland falls in the middle or bottom third in population, income and corporate base and is near the top in terms of age, which is a drawback in marketing an arena with a sport — minor league hockey — as its main attraction.

Conventions, Sports & Leisure said most of the club seats would pay for themselves through higher ticket prices in two years, but the sky club seats would require nine years to recoup the higher cost.

Building committee members said they still hope to build a skywalk connecting the two sky level suites. The planned walkway circling the upper level could have held an advertising-supported message board. Although the walkway in the new plan wouldn’t circle the arena, building committee members said they still hope to have a message board, with time sold to advertisers.

The committee will meet again at the end of June. Chairman Joe Bruno said that if the consultants indicate the six west-end suites would be easy to sell, the committee can firm up its budget and plans and allow the architect and engineers to get to work on final designs.

Work is expected to begin in August and continue through the winter, around Portland Pirates hockey games. After the Pirates finish their season next spring, the civic center will be closed for a final push on the work. The target date for completion is October 2013. 

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

[email protected]