County leaders put Civic Center renovation on ballot

August 9, 2011 in Articles

Author: Matthew Arco
Publication: Portland Daily Sun

County leaders put Civic Center renovation on ballot

A $33 million proposal to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center will appear on the November ballot as a bond referendum, county officials decided Monday.

Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of putting the item before the voters to decide whether to invest in the roughly 35-year-old building. Officials voted following a brief public hearing on the renovation proposal during the commission’s regular monthly meeting.

“We need to paint, we need to patch,” said Commissioner Richard Feeney. “We can’t keep on doing that.”

Feeney was joined by Commissioner James Cloutier in voting to approve putting the matter before voters.

“I think it adds a lot to our quality of life,” said Cloutier, referring to the Civic Center, home to the Portland Pirates hockey team. “In the end it’s all about Maine supporting the quality of life we’ve built for ourselves.”

Commissioner Susan Witonis opposed the measure.

“At this point I cannot … support sending this to a referendum for the citizens of Cumberland County,” said Witonis, adding that it was a difficult decision but that she could not support the measure in such tough economic times.

The commission also voted to approve allocating $1 million annually in county funds to help pay for the renovations if the measure gets voter support in November.

The funds will come from an estimated $2.1 million annual revenue that went to support building a new county jail.

The vote came at the heels of months of lengthy discussion on the proposal and after four public meetings.

The chairman of the center’s board of trustees, Neal Pratt, warned before the vote that opting out of any renovations could ultimately be more expensive.

“The cost of doing nothing … arguably will cost taxpayers more money than the proposal we have on the table,” he said, adding that “the recognition of the need (for renovations among trustees) is universal.”

He reasoned that ongoing necessary maintenance for the aging building, and a decrease in future revenue if the center does not stay competitive, would make the Civic Center a more expensive project if nothing is done at the present.

He said the trustees have discussed on multiple occasions the possibility of building an entirely new structure, saying those proposals were scrapped when they discovered the cost would likely exceed $100 million.

The renovations would include bringing the building in compliance with American Disabilities Act guidelines; expanding the size of the building, loading dock and vendor area; adding club seating; and improving facilities for the Portland Pirates.

“It’s a pretty thorough renovation of the building that I think will take us another 25 years,” said Paul Stevens, architect for the renovation proposal. “I think we have a good plan to proceed with.”

Before the vote, the commission heard from two residents who spoke in opposition to putting the proposal on the November ballot.

“Even if the case for renovation is compelling, the timing is simply not right,” said Dave Canarie. “This is just simply not the time for more debt.”

Canarie also wondered whether other areas of the county should have to pay for the Portland facility.

Three residents spoke in favor of the proposal and seeing it on the ballot.

“I’m very concerned that this bond issue may not pass, and I very much want it to pass,” said Carleton Winslow. “I think this is the time to do it.”





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