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September 7, 2010 | last updated December 1, 2011 8:20 am
Portlandbiz

Westbrook developer pushes arena, but officials want more details

Photo/Robert M. Cook
Photo/Robert M. Cook
Developer Jason Snyder stands in front of land he owns near his Westbrook home where he has proposed building an arena
Illustration/Courtesy Jason Snyder
An illustration showing the layout of Jason Snyder's proposed $60 million arena

Few Portland region business leaders or elected officials greeted with much enthusiasm Jason Snyder's announcement in June that he would build a $60 million-plus arena and do a $30 million renovation of the Cumberland County Civic Center.

But the Westbrook developer maintains he is forming a sound business plan that he hopes will convince state lawmakers, Cumberland County officials and city officials in Portland and Westbrook that a new 8,000-seat arena and a dedicated convention center in Portland will yield the best return on investment. He will present his plan to the civic center board of trustees next week.

"It's the most important thing that we can do as a state at this point in time to leverage our openness and our name brand," he says.

Snyder already owns the land adjacent to his Westbrook home, where he plans to site a new arena either on the 61 acres in Portland located near exit 46 and the Portland International Jetport and the Maine Turnpike, or on 59.5 acres in Westbrook. Snyder received approvals from Westbrook officials in 2008 to build Stroudwater Place, a 1.6 million-square-foot development that will have mixed retail, commercial, hospitality and sports entertainment venues.

Greg Mitchell, Portland's economic development director, told Mainebiz he needs to see more of the financials to show how Snyder would fund these projects before he could weigh in on them.

"That's what everyone is waiting for," says Keith Luke, Westbrook's director of economic and community development. He believes Snyder's plans for Stroudwater Place and a new arena are viable, but won't come to fruition until the economy rebounds and more commercial development lending takes place.

Luke says the city would love to see Snyder break ground on his retail development in the spring of 2011, but if it takes longer for his plans to go forward the city can be "a patient lot" because the city has not invested public money in any infrastructure.

Snyder plans to commission two studies with Conventions Sports & Leisure of Minneapolis, Minn., to determine the economic benefit the region and state would derive from a new arena and a dedicated convention center in downtown Portland. The studies will also show how both projects would be funded and how much public or state funding would be required, Snyder adds.

More importantly, Snyder says the firm, which is regarded as one of the foremost consulting experts on such projects in the country, will show the return on investment each project will generate. Snyder is confident that once those numbers are compiled and presented, all of the parties that have a vested interest in this issue will support his plans.

John Kaatz, owner of the Minnesota firm, says it has provided marketing analysis for similar projects all over the country. "It's not typical to have a private developer lead the effort," Kaatz says. "More often than not these are publicly led projects because they need public financing."

When asked if he feels his firm's market analysis would help Snyder build public support for his proposed projects, Kaatz replied, "It remains to be seen."

The Cumberland County Civic Center Board of Trustees also wants to learn more about Snyder's plans. The developer is scheduled to make a presentation to the trustees on Sept. 15. Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees, says Snyder needs to have more details about how he would fund these projects before his board would give them serious consideration.

"One of the key questions is, what is their idea for public funding?" and what would be the funding mechanism and projected return on investment, Pratt says. "Those questions are vital right out of the gate."

Currently, the Cumberland County Civic Center Task Force is reviewing a report from consultant Brailsford & Dunlavey of Washington, D.C., to analyze the best potential revenue sources that can be generated by different renovations to the existing civic center, which was constructed in 1978. Several officials told Mainebiz the consensus is leaning toward club seating, skyboxes and naming rights for the existing facility to bring in more dollars and extend its life by another 15 to 20 years. Snyder wants to make sure county and municipal officials and business leaders carefully weigh the overall ROI generated by that effort as well as his plans once he produces hard figures.

"The question that needs to be asked is, what is the best value, dollar for dollar?" he says.

He is convinced a new arena that would have the Portland Pirates team as its anchor tenant and attract concerts the civic center is presently losing, and a dedicated convention center would generate "hundreds of millions of dollars" in state sales and lodging and meals taxes, provide dozens of new full- and part-time jobs, and boost Portland area businesses.

"It will allow us to reposition ourselves and leverage what we have as a state," he says.

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