Construction on the largest purpose-built convention and events center in Maine could start within two years at the Rock Row development in Westbrook.

Conceptual plans for the center, which could cost $75 million and hold more than 8,200 people and be modified for corporate events, trade shows, conventions and live entertainment, were released by Waterstone Properties on Thursday. The developer is seeking funds from a proposed public bond issue to help pay for the project.

If constructed, it could attract up to 200 events a year and satisfy a years-long demand for a convention center. Plans include an attached hotel and parking garage. Construction could start as early as 2023.

Waterstone is interested in amending a bill that would introduce a $115 million bond issue for a convention center in Portland and improvements to the Augusta Civic Center so the money could be used for the proposed center at Rock Row, a company spokesman said.

“We think the area can’t support two similar venues that are close to one another,” said Greg John. “If there is going to be a facility anywhere, it has to be at Rock Row. We can plan for infrastructure, not plopping something in a downtown neighborhood that is congested and has parking problems.”

Conceptual plans for the convention center at Rock Row say it could hold more than 8,200 people and be modified for corporate events, trade shows, conventions and live entertainment. Rendering courtesy of Rock Row/Waterstone Properties

While the planned center would have a similar seating capacity to the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, it would be the biggest facility of its kind in Maine, John said.

“In comparing both of those, you are comparing apples and oranges,” he said. “There are other facilities in Maine that are built as stadiums. They occasionally have business meetings and events, but those events are few and far between because they are not built for that.”

The proposed center would have 110,000 square feet of divisible event space, including a 35,000-square-foot space to be used for exhibits, meetings or performances.

“That is what is needed in the space – we are one of the only states in America that does not have a large meeting and convention area,” John said.

The proposed convention center would have 110,000 square feet of event space, including a 35,000-square-foot space for exhibits, meetings or performances. Rendering courtesy of Rock Row/Waterstone Properties

Waterstone proposed a convention center for the mixed-use development last year. It would be built on the location of an outdoor live music and entertainment pavilion that opened in 2019 and suspended concerts and activities this September.

It would represent another development phase for the $600 million, multi-year redevelopment project to add apartments, offices, shopping and restaurants in a 110-acre former quarry abutting Interstate 95.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” Westbrook Mayor Michael Foley said in a statement.

While recurring plans for a convention space over the years have centered on downtown Portland, the former quarry redevelopment at Rock Row is an ideal location for a venue of this scale, Foley said.

“Building this at Rock Row allows us to plan properly from the beginning and ensure there is adequate parking, traffic flow and other features that will maximize use and minimize local inconveniences,” he said. “We only have one chance to do this right and create something we will all be proud of.”

Plans for the $75 million convention center at the Rock Row mixed-use development in Westbrook include an attached hotel and parking garage. Rendering courtesy of Rock Row/Waterstone Properties

MODELED ON TOYOTA MUSIC FACTORY

The center is modeled on the Toyota Music Factory on the outskirts of Dallas, and would feature a retractable wall that would open to a lawn seating area, Waterstone said. It could bring up to 343 full-time jobs to the area, it said.

Demand for a convention center in Portland, at least among some quarters, goes back decades. The idea has resurfaced repeatedly in the past 10 years, but a successful proposal has never emerged.

In the meantime, the Portland region is losing out on the economic boost that could come from increased tourism and business travel a convention center would attract, Waterstone Founding Partner Josh Levy said. Some large local companies, such as Idexx Laboratories, hold company events out of state because they don’t have adequate meeting space, he added.

“Without question, our new event facility at Rock Row will have a profound and positive economic impact on the region and state for many decades,” Levy said in a statement. “We are filling a real and pent-up need and will attract regional, national and international conferences that our state and local businesses are currently losing out on.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.