After $33M renovation, Portland’s Civic Center set to reopen


PORTLAND — 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 Free streets has undergone a $33 million renovation and expansion from seat to ceiling. “It’s an amazing end to a very long journey,” said Roberta Wright, the center’s director of event services.

Funded by a bond approved by voters in November 2011, the center has moved from brutalist architecture to cream walls, plush, maroon seats, modern light fixtures, better sight lines and ample event space. Beyond roof repair in 1997 and exterior work in 2000, this is the first major renovation to the decades-old structure, which has been closed since May.

“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 years 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, built by Cianbro, adds 37,408 square feet, private suites, party rooms and larger, modular locker room space for sporting teams. A new, dedicated entrance for the Portland Pirates hockey team will give players direct access to their space, Johanning said Monday during a tour of the gleaming space. With the renovation comes a $2-per-ticket cost increase to assist in paying the bond.

Behind-the-scenes improvements patrons may not notice include new loading bays and better air circulation. That, executives say, means shows such as the Monster X 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.

Advancements such as retractable telescopic will push the stage back to create more floor space for shows. Whereas before there were no private suites, the center now boasts six.

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

Though the Harlem Globetrotters, Darius Rucker and The Avett Brothers have all been announced, the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor “had no impact on the decision to renovate the Civic Center,” said Felicia Knight president of The Knight Canney Group, who represents the civic center. “We were already underway when decisions were being made in Bangor to build the Cross Center.”

Fans will find the steep stairs on Free Street, once a treacherous climb in the winter, replaced with a new, streamlined entrance anchored by a ticket booth and escalator. Swankier touches include a sleek, stylish 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,” in total bonding, 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.