PORTLAND (AP) – A committee of business leaders and public officials recommended Wednesday that a 10,000-seat arena be built downtown.

The committee said the building, which would cost $50 million to $60 million, should seat 10,000 fans for concerts and 8,500 people for hockey and other ice events. It would be funded by a proposed 1 percent increase in the state’s meals and lodging tax, so the new money could benefit similar projects across Maine.

The preferred location is a parking lot at the corner of Franklin Arterial and Congress Street. The group said the primary tenant should be a professional hockey team, as long as a favorable lease can be negotiated.

The committee, chaired by retired Hannaford Bros. chairman Hugh Farrington, delivered its recommendation at a monthly meeting of Cumberland County Civic Center trustees.

The committee’s finding pleased officials with the Portland Pirates American Hockey League team, who support building a new arena as a way to increase revenues with luxury suites and club seats.

“We’re anxious to get more involved, help make this a reality,” said Brian Petrovek, owner of the Pirates. “Bring it on. Build it, they will come.”

Discussions have gone on for years about whether the aging Civic Center should be upgraded or replaced with a new arena.

Five years ago, the Libra Foundation philanthropic organization offered the city of Portland land and $20 million to build an arena. But the city rejected the offer, saying it would not be able to fund the remaining $26 million of the costs without taxpayer money.

Civic Center trustees last year shelved plans to renovate the civic center, saying that it was more prudent to build a new arena than to spend millions to improve the current building marginally.

Farrington was chosen by the civic center’s board last August to lead an eight-member committee to determine the feasibility of building a new sports and entertainment complex in Portland.

Farrington said a new arena would be a good thing, but not at all costs.

It has to be a fair deal for the Civic Center, people of Cumberland County and for the hockey team,” he said.

The trustees accepted the report Wednesday morning without knowing whether the property can be acquired, having any information about its impact on the surrounding neighborhood or discussing the matter in great detail with Portland officials.

The trustees plan to discuss the report in upcoming workshops.

They also urged board members and civic center officials to begin lobbying Gov. John Baldacci to include the 1 percent increase in meals and lodging taxes in his tax reform proposal, which is due out next week.

AP-ES-05-22-03 0253EDT

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