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$245 million complex proposed for Portland


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Consultant: Tax dollars justified for city complex'

By TUX TURKEL, Portland Press Herald Writer | January 20, 2005

The economic spinoffs from a new convention center complex in Portland would more than justify the use of tax money to offset construction debt and operating losses, a consultant said Wednesday.

Matt Arrants, managing director of Pinnacle Advisory Group, also downplayed a national report that found convention centers in general have become bad investments.

But Arrants conceded that the large hotel included in the Portland project probably would operate at a loss and need public money as well.

Arrants' comments came as he updated Cumberland County Civic Center trustees on a study that Boston-based Pinnacle is preparing for Joseph Boulos, a Portland businessman who has proposed the $245 million downtown complex.

The project would include a 10,000-seat arena, a 140,000-square-foot convention center, a 250-room hotel, a 17-story office tower and a parking garage. The site includes the Top of the Old Port parking lot and property owned by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Pinnacle's study is due next month. It will lay out specific financial details for the project.

Although it's being prepared for Boulos, the study's conclusions are aimed at the state Legislature. That's because lawmakers will be asked this winter to approve a bill to create some sort of financing package to pay off debt on the convention center and other public parts of the complex. The proposed bill would help fund convention centers and tourism facilities around the state.

In previewing the study results, Arrants noted that nearly all convention centers in the United States are built with some public money. Many, for example, use revenue bonds supported by a tax on hotel rooms.

Arrants said large hotels tied to convention centers also need some public financial help to offset the high cost of building enough rooms and additional meeting space.

Arrants also responded to questions about a report released this week by The Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The report said the national marketplace for conventions and trade shows is declining. Cities and states continue to pump money into developing new meeting spaces, however, in "a type of arms race with competing cities." The report found 44 new or expanded centers being planned or built.

The report, written by Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said that despite dedicated taxes to pay off public debt on the centers, many cities, including Washington, D.C, and St. Louis, operate at a loss.

Arrants acknowledged that several other Northeast cities have built or are planning convention centers, including Boston, Springfield and Worcester, Mass. But he told trustees that the data Sanders is using ends in 2003 and reflects a downturn in travel brought on by the recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

More recent figures from the hotel industry suggest that travel is picking up and that the future is brighter. "Things are really starting to recover," he said.

Arrants said he spoke to Sanders in the process of preparing his study. The professor's outlook is being considered in Pinnacle's upcoming projections for Portland, Arrants said.

Arrants' explanation seemed reasonable to Neal Pratt, who chairs the trustees' long-range planning committee trying to replace the aging Cumberland County Civic Center.

Pratt said he's planning to review The Brookings Institution report, but is mindful that Portland specifically and Maine in general don't have enough meeting space to function as a major tourist destination. He also wasn't surprised that convention center hotels tend to be unprofitable without public financing but said he wasn't ready to accept that conclusion in Portland.

"It will depend on the financing model," he said, "and we haven't talked hard numbers yet."

Arrants said authors of the Pinnacle study are still pulling together numbers for the economic analysis. The Brookings Institution report fails to address the broader economic impact of convention centers, he said.

Arrants also said it's not news that convention centers don't pay for themselves. Their economic benefit comes from visitors eating, shopping and traveling.

"People come for the convention," Arrants said. "Then they tack on three days and explore the area."

From Portland Press Herald

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update on progress, looks to be a long road ahead.

This really needs to be developed, Its amazing how the bayside neighborhood came out of nowhere, before they started talking about development, i never new bayside even had a neighborhood. :blink:

I'm hoping with this project is it not some jumbo of concrete structures, designed on the cheap end, hopefully they will have some nice designs.


A proposal to build a $245 million civic center complex in the heart of downtown Portland drew mixed reviews at a Bayside neighborhood meeting Wednesday night.

Some people said the 6.5-acre complex, bounded by Franklin Arterial, Cumberland Avenue and Congress Street, could be an asset to the neighborhood. Others questioned the size of the project, the use of public financing and the potential impact on parking, traffic and pedestrians in an already congested area.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous to spend taxpayers' money on a convention center in the absolute dead center of the city," said Jay York, who lives, operates a business and owns property in Bayside. "We should put it somewhere more accessible to out-of-town traffic."

More than 80 people attended the information session sponsored by the Bayside Neighborhood Association at the Merrill Auditorium rehearsal hall.

The project would be between the arterial and Portland City Hall. The site includes the Top of the Old Port parking lot and a building and parking lot owned by Blethen Maine Newspapers, publisher of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center have identified the site, which is adjacent to Bayside, as the ideal location to replace the aging 7,000-seat facility on Spring Street. The proposal calls for a 10,000-seat arena and a 140,000-square-foot convention center that would be publicly funded.

Supporters want the Legislature to establish a mechanism for providing public financing for civic and convention centers, a concept that has been shot down before in Augusta.

Joseph Boulos, owner of CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Co. commercial real estate firm, also wants to build a 17-story, 300,000-square-foot office building on the site, along with a 250-room hotel and a 1,700-space parking garage. Boulos' $120 million portion of the project would be privately funded.

Alan Holt, an urban designer who led the meeting, said the complex would require significant improvements to Franklin Arterial to protect surrounding neighborhoods. He opposed closing Pearl Street because it's the only nonarterial street that spans the entire peninsula.

He said the complex should be designed to be sensitive to the city's historic features, especially City Hall, and pedestrian-friendly, with street-level retail and public spaces. That sounds good to Amanda Sears, a West End resident.

"I walk by the (Cumberland County Civic Center) every day," Sears said. "It's bleak. It's just a big block. If they build this complex, it should be useful and attractive to people who are walking by and driving by every day."

If the complex is built, a portion of it will be taller than the adjacent 16-story Franklin Towers apartment building on Cumberland Avenue. The public housing complex, where most of the residents are elderly, is considered the tallest building in Maine. The height of the proposed new building doesn't bother Jon Graback, who lives at Franklin Towers.

"So far, I'm open-minded about it," Graback said. "I would tend to favor it if it's financially feasible and they can address the physical impacts adequately. Traffic is a big issue. I get a lot of dust and exhaust in my apartment already in the summer. But I would support the project if the net effect was beneficial to the city as a whole."

George Campbell, president of The Boulos Co., said planning for the complex wouldn't begin until early next year. However, he told Bayside residents that it would be designed as a series of buildings that come together without overwhelming the neighborhood.

"Really," Campbell said, "we're talking about a public-private partnership."

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just wanted to add some thoughts, of a discussion on the portland press herald that i feel sums up how i feel.

"Bayside right now is filled with empty and crumbling buildings and parking lots. Nearly anything would be an improvement on this. I am often amazed at people who wish to limit Portland to being a small town"

"I really hope that people will give this a fair chance and not cry "Not in my Backyard" before they get a good look of the overall development. We are supposed to be the economic and entertainment pulse of Maine.

Let's make this city not only a place that people want to come to, but a place that we who live here want to stay. "

"Joe Boulos is giving us a chance that we probably don't deserve after turning down other proposals in the past. He is doing this because he loves this city and he understands the impact that this would make for all of us living in and around Portland. This is not a man that would waste his time or money if he did not believe completely in the benifits that his project will bring us. "

think a new civic center in Portland is long overdue. Look at Portland's compitition -

"Manchester and Boston - both cities have already upgraded their convention facilities. With those upgrades, potential business is lurred away from Portland. I believe this can not happen. Portland is the cultural epicenter of southern maine. With good planning, this developement is a win - win situation for both Portland and people in the Portland metro."

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think a new civic center in Portland is long overdue. Look at Portland's compitition -

"Manchester and Boston - both cities have already upgraded their convention facilities. With those upgrades, potential business is lurred away from Portland. I believe this can not happen. Portland is the cultural epicenter of southern maine. With good planning, this developement is a win - win situation for both Portland and people in the Portland metro."


Providence also has a relatively new convention centre and Hartford is building one. Providence may also upgrade it's civic centre and attach it to the convention centre. I don't think Hartford is a threat to Portland though, Portland is a much better city.

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Providence also has a relatively new convention centre and Hartford is building one. Providence may also upgrade it's civic centre and attach it to the convention centre. I don't think Hartford is a threat to Portland though, Portland is a much better city.


I think our main competition is manchester, because its so close and also durham.

when shows would come up to northern new england they would usually come to portland, but manchester is now a better option with there new civic center. not many shows are going to go to manchester and p-town, ya know?

i don't think providence takes too much away from portland to much and hartford since they both over 4+hrs, the market is alot more crowded in new england for sure.

providence is a sweet city, they have some great architecture and the clubs and bars down that are really good, used to go down and party with my at bryant college and we would go to providence.

i could def see providence hosting law enforcement conventions at the dunkin douhgnut center, portland can't compete with that.

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read the comments at the bottom of the article, pretty good views.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Legislators pose stumbling block to Portland project


THIS TAX allows one or more municipalities in a region to impose a sales tax of up to 1 percent for no more than five years to fund a specific regional project, such as a new civic center or convention facility.

THE LEGISLATURE must approve the tax. Gov. John Baldacci is the first major-party governor to support the tax.

THE DISCUSSION about local-option sales tax has been going on for at least two decades. The tax has been opposed by rural lawmakers who believe the people they represent pay the taxes but don't get the benefits and by conservative lawmakers who oppose tax increases.

To top of story

A $245 million building project proposed for downtown Portland is getting a lukewarm reception from the city's legislative delegation, a group important to the development's success.

The project would include an arena and convention center, an office tower and a hotel on two city blocks between Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue.

Some of the city's lawmakers see the proposal as a key project for Portland's economic future. But others are unsure of the proposal and refuse to meet with its developer, Portland businessman Joseph Boulos, until he releases more information to the public. They have asked him to hold a public meeting with them.

The views of lawmakers representing neighborhoods such as Deering Oaks and Munjoy Hill are important because the project will need financial support from the state. A likely source is a local-option sales tax. It has been proposed in past years but has never won enough support to pass.

"The linchpin in most cases is a local meals and lodging tax," said Larry Benoit, a lobbyist for the Cumberland County Civic Center Board of Trustees.

The project includes a 10,000-seat arena, a 140,000-square-foot convention center, a 250-room hotel, a 17-story office tower and a parking garage. It would go next to Portland City Hall on land owned by the Top of the Old Port parking lot and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Boulos has described the plan as a public-private partnership. The public would pay for and own the arena and convention center. Boulos would build the hotel and office tower with private money.

The project has some important support. Gov. John Baldacci is interested, and he said last week that he plans to propose legislation to help pay for civic centers and other projects to expand tourism statewide.

House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, has voiced support for the Boulos project, saying it is important for the future of Greater Portland.

But Richardson said it becomes harder to push a project if representatives from Portland oppose it. The Baldacci administration also is not ready to propose legislation. The governor said he is trying to build support among lawmakers and the tourism industry and compile research to show the economic benefits.

"When you focus it strategically, bipartisanly, and with business, industry and jobs figures . . . people will see it is actually going to be a benefit to everyone," Baldacci said.

A consultant for Boulos is studying how the Portland project would affect the local economy. But gaining the support of the tourism industry, lawmakers in Portland and the full Legislature is a larger challenge.

Members of the tourism industry oppose giving communities or counties the ability to assess a local sales tax on meals and lodging. Richard Grotton, president of the Maine Restaurant Association, said he and other lobbyists conveyed their position to the Baldacci administration and plan to do the same with the Legislature.

"I have given a pretty clear message that a local-option is not the way to go," Grotton said.

Members of the Portland delegation have not expressed outright opposition to the Boulos proposal. But some say they are not pushing for legislation to help finance it.

Their opinions vary. Rep. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, sees Boulos as a civic-minded individual proposing an important project for the city's future. Rep. Herb Adams, D-Portland, is a harsh critic of the proposal and the way it has been handled so far.

"It can't be built from the top down and won't be built by having private conversations with a few politicians," said Adams, who has called for an open meeting on the proposal along with other Portland lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan, D-Portland, said one issue for him is that he knows little about the project. He was invited to a meeting about the project but said he declined because it was not public.

George Campbell, a former Portland mayor who is working on the project with Boulos, said civic center trustees in Portland and public officials in other communities considering similar projects are the ones leading the push for state financing. He and Boulos will explain their plan and answer questions whenever asked, he said, but will not lead the effort to win state support.

"We are saying one simple thing. We stand ready to make a serious private investment if there is an opportunity to build a civic center and convention center," Campbell said.

It is unclear whether public officials will take the developer up on his offer. Brennan sees revenue from a local-option sales tax going to other needs, such as paying for schools and providing property tax relief. State Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, said he supports the tax but would want the community - not the Legislature - to decide how to spend it.

House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said communication on the project has been a problem, but he likes the overall concept.

If supporters of new civic and convention centers can show the project will grow the state's economy and result in a long-term boost in tax revenue for the state, he said, then it could win support from Democrats and Republicans alike. "I think conceptually it is the right project at the right time," Cummings said.

The delegation is not getting direction from local officials at this point. City Councilor James Cloutier, chairman of the council's Community Development Committee, said the council has not taken a position on the Boulos project.

Councilors do support a local-option tax, he said, but the arena and convention center are among several priorities that would vie for its new revenue.

Local support for the project is just one test. Benoit, the civic center trustees' lobbyist, said he is working with officials in Bangor, Lewiston and Aroostook County to ensure any legislation the governor's office puts forward helps all regions of the state, not just the Portland area.

The full Legislature has been cool to the idea of a local-option tax in the past, with rural communities arguing it is a burden for their residents without benefits. Baldacci became the first major party governor to support a local-option tax. He has proposed using it to pay for projects of regional significance, but the concept has not moved forward.

Baldacci said he is looking again at the local-option tax, along with state borrowing and various tax incentives as he puts together a proposal to boost tourism.

"It is very clear that we need to recognize the economic opportunities we are not maximizing," the governor said.

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