Portland Civic Center Reopens After $33M Renovation

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Copyright 2014 Bangor Daily News
Bangor Daily News (Maine)
Kathleen Pierce BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine -- If you saw Judas Priest at the Cumberland County Civic Center in the '80s, you've got another thing coming when the venue reopens Saturday.

Since October 2012, the 1977 arena between Spring and Center streets has undergone a $33 million renovation and expansion from seat to ceiling. Funded by a bond approved by voters in November 2011, "it's an amazing end to a very long journey," said Roberta Wright, the center's director of event services.

Closed since May, the center has moved from brutalist architecture to cream walls, plush, maroon seats, modern light fixtures and ample event space.

"The big thing is seeing people come to the facility for the first time and saying 'wow,'" said Michael Johanning, a senior associate with WBRC Architects Engineers of Portland, who designed the changes.

From wider concourses, to more vending stations and increased seating for handicapped patrons, the Civic Center is poised to become a key city structure for decades to come.

"This renovation allows us to continue serving the public with the high quality, wide variety of events our fans are accustomed to seeing right here in Portland," said Steve Crane, Civic Center general manager in a prepared statement.

The expansion adds 37,408 square feet, private suites, party rooms and larger, modular locker room space for sporting teams. And a new dedicated entrance for the Portland Pirates hockey team will give them a direct access to their space, Johanning said Monday during a tour of the space.

Behind-the-scenes improvements patrons may not notice include new loading bays and better air circulation. That, executives say, means shows like the Monster Jam Truck tour can return and the Civic Center will have more leverage competing for arena shows.

"The quicker you can get a concert in and out of the building the better," said Johanning.

Whereas before there were no private suites, the center now boasts six. Advancements like retractable telescopic seating means the stage will be positioned back creating more floor space for shows.

"With all this flexible space, I think they are going to find a lot of new uses for it," said Johanning.

The steep stairs on Free Street, once a treacherous climb in the winter, have been demolished. A new, covered entrance with a ticket booth and escalator is streamlined and accessible.

Swankier touches include a sleek, stylish new club room on Spring Street lined by windows with views of the city's skyline.

"It's another VIP setting adding to those tiers of specialized seating," said Johanning.

"That's a selling point," said Mitchell Berkowitz, a member of the Civic Center's board of trustees.

"When you see people behind the glass you say 'how come they [get to be there]' ... and we say, 'it's available,'" said Berkowitz.

Crews are still hammering out the finishing touches and the building's certificate of occupancy is expected Wednesday.

"By the time we are done, we'll have $36 million into it," said Berkowitz.

Women will be pleasantly surprised when the doors re-open Saturday for the Maine Home, Remodeling and Garden Show. There are 178 new bathroom stalls -- a total of 76 for females.

"To me that's the most exciting," said Wright.


February 11, 2014




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