Voters approve $33M bond for Cumberland County Civic Center

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PORTLAND — Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported a $33 million bond referendum to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center.

According to unofficial results, Cumberland County voters approved the bond referendum 50,118 to 36,801, or 58 percent to 42 percent.

“I’m extremely pleased we were able to get the message out,” Civic Center Board of Trustees Chairman Neal Pratt said Tuesday night.

He said the outcome made it clear voters believe the Civic Center is well managed and will continue to be an economic engine for the region.

“It’s a resounding vote in favor of those principals,” he said.

As expected, greater Portland voters generally supported the bond, while voters from outlying county towns were not as enthusiastic.

In Portland, the bond was approved by a 2 to 1 margin, 12,732 to 6,493, in unofficial results.

Voters approved the measure 2,499 to 1,466 in Falmouth, 1,644 to 1,105 in Cumberland, 1,688 to 1,336 in Freeport, 1,992 to 1,186 in Yarmouth, 658-616 in North Yarmouth, 3,537 to 2,252 in Brunswick, 1,095 to 921 in Harpswell, 2,419 to 1,160 in Cape Elizabeth, 4,314 to 2,944 in Scarborough, and 4,322 to 2,642 in South Portland in unofficial results Tuesday night.

In New Gloucester, however, the referendum lost 899-727, in Baldwin it lost 258-127, and in Harrison it lost 527-284. It also narrowly lost in Windham, 2,292 to 2,170, and Standish, 1,280 to 1,217.

In Gray, the bond was approved by a razor-thin margin, 1,166 to 1,152. It was also approved in Gorham.

The 34-year-old Civic Center on Spring Street in Portland hosts concerts, shows, conferences and the Portland Pirates professional hockey team.

Pirates owner Brian Petrovek has said the team will sign a 10-year lease for use of the Civic Center if the bond passed. Pratt said lease negotiations will begin as soon as possible.

The Civic Center board will now begin the process of choosing an architect. Construction is expected to begin next summer.

The total cost of the 25-year bond, including interest, has been estimated at $55 million.

The bond will pay for improvements, including new seats, wheelchair-accessible seating, additional restrooms and concourse space, improved backstage areas, club seating, a new loading dock and external facade improvements. There will be approximately the same number of seats after renovation as there are now – 7,500 for concerts, 6,800 fixed.

The Civic Center has been losing money for the past few years, which proponents of the bond said was because of the current state of the building. Trustees said the improvements will be paid for by the additional revenue generated by the updated building.

Opponents, however, said taxpayers should not be asked to pay for an entertainment center when people are struggling to pay their own bills, and questioned whether the additional revenue would be enough to cover the repairs.

“Now we need to hold county and Civic Center officials accountable for delivering the many benefits they promised voters in exchange for our $55 million,” said Portland attorney Dave Canarie, who opposed the bond.

There was no organized opposition to the referendum, and Canarie said those individuals who openly opposed the bond were up against a financially well-supported organization.

“Proponents of the bond had a massive campaign war chest and used it very effectively,” he said.

At the polls Tuesday voters were mixed in their thoughts on the bond.

“It’s a lot of money, but that place is a dump,” said Portland resident Sandie Barr, who supported the bond.

However, in Falmouth, where turnout was higher than expected, voters were not as quick to support the Civic Center.

“I think the Civic Center would be better suited to be outside of the downtown area,” said Falmouth Town Councilor Will Armitage. “And it seems like a lot of money.”

He said he did not support the bond.

Krista Riccioni, who brought her two young children, Grace and Ryan, to vote with her, said she didn’t mind voting yes to support the Civic Center bond.

But her daughter, Grace, was particularly interested in the two casino questions on the ballot.

“I don’t think gambling is right,” she said. “People want to get money, but they just lose money.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.