Civic Center Opens with Improved Accessibility

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Artists rendering of New Civic Center Entrance

After 15 months, more than $33 million, 400,000 pounds of steel, 3,319 cubic yards of concrete, 65,000 bricks and 220,000 hours, the Cumberland County Civic Center is ready to open.
"It's night and day," said Joe Bruno, chairman of the building renovation committee.2-11-14-civic-center-1

The first major event, the Maine Home, Remodeling and Garden Show, is set for Saturday, and in advance of the event, the Civic Center Board of Trustees opened the facility's doors to members of the media Monday to tour the building and learn about the work.

The renovated facility has more room whereas it used to feel cramped, the seats are more plentiful and comfortable, the accommodations are much improved, the entrances were redone and the views are better, Bruno said.

"We think the experience is going to be so much better," he said.

Since the Civic Center was built in 1977, it hadn't undergone any large-scale improvements. The renovation included increasing the floor area by 37,408 square feet by making improvements to the entrances, concourse, restrooms and other parts of the facility.2-11-14-civic-center-3

Cumberland County voters approved a $33 million bond to fund the project in 2011.

Several dramatic changes to the building's exterior were improving the three street entrances and reconfiguring the loading bay on Center Street.

The work was done in two parts; the first phase included the improvements to the northwest corner of the building, along Free Street, and the second phase will include the balance of the building. The facility was shuttered entirely while the second phase was done.

"It's spectacular," Bruno said. "I feel great about what we did here."


Michael Johanning, architect and senior firm associate with WBRC, said one of the main goals of the project was to maximize space and increase flexibility within the building. He said the design aimed to grab as much space as possible to increase the usable area of the building and make it better for patrons to get around the facility.

Johanning said the entrances to the building were rebuilt on both the Spring Street and Free Street sides to make it easier for patrons to get inside the building and no longer need to wait outside before events. A new ticketing area was created by moving some of the office space above the main concourse, and this change will make it better for patrons by separating this section from the concessions area.

"It flows a lot better," Johanning said.

A major goal of the project was to make the facility more accessible, according to Johanning, and the Civic Center is now "above and beyond" code requirements.

In the concourse, the entrances have been redone, most notably, the one at the corner of Center and Spring streets that was formerly the home of the steep "suicide stairs." Johanning said the renovated entrance includes an elevator, escalator and stairway leading from the street onto the concourse level with a remote ticketing office.
Elsewhere in the concourse, Johanning said more concession space has been opened up and the bathrooms have been expanded.

Inside the bowl of the Civic Center, Johanning said all the seats have been refurbished, and more handicapped accessible seating areas were added. Among the new interior features are six new suites that were built in what used to be empty space, Johanning said.

Another improvement inside the bowl of the facility is retractable seating that will allow stages to be set further back and increase capacity during concerts, said Johanning.

Behind the stage area, the Civic Center has new loading docks that will make it easier to load and unload equipment during events, Johanning said.

Around the facility, rooms were added and expanded to offer more function or vendor space during events.

By having more flexible space around the facility, Johanning said there are more creative options to present to prospective event promoters.

"I'm very happy with how the building came out," Johanning said.

When trying to attract events to the Civic Center, promoters don't want to see a stodgy old facility, Bruno said, and the county can now offer a modern and functional space.
Mitchell Berkowitz, a member of the board of trustees, said as a business, the 40-year-old Civic Center needed some work for it to continue to be attractive to promoters looking for places to host events. He said the upgraded facility makes better use of space, offers better accommodations to patrons and will be a benefit to the county and the region.

"I think that our taxpayers got bang for their buck," Berkowitz said. "... I think they will be extremely pleased."

The reopening of the Civic Center comes on the heels of the announcement that the trustees and the Portland Pirates signed a new five-year lease for the hockey team to become once again the primary tenant of the building, following a one-season departure to Lewiston.

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