One Vintage Cruiser by Gulfstream trailer is seen framed in the door of another one March. 13 during a show at the Augusta Civic Center. It was the last event that took place at the venue before the coronavirus pandemic forced social distancing measures to be implemented and large gatherings stopped. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The sudden cancellations of public and private events due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus have left the Augusta Civic Center without any source of revenue and on target to lose as much as $400,000 by the end of June.

That amount could grow to $700,000 by Sept. 1, according to officials, and those losses at the city-owned event center will fall onto taxpayers.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said all events scheduled at the facility up until September have been canceled or postponed, and the auditorium and meeting space has had no income coming in since the middle of March.

A camper show in mid-March was the last major event at the facility. Over the next 30 days, the center had about 20 scheduled events that could have drawn 250 people or more to its main auditorium; and another 14 more such events over the coming three-month period, according to Earl Kingsbury, director of the center.

Canceled events included the 40th annual State of Maine Sportsman’s Show, which had been scheduled for March 27-29, and a March 18 performance by the Harlem Globetrotters.

The losses projected by St. Pierre could change based on how many people are kept employed at the facility.

For now the center’s full-time employees are being paid by the city, under an administrative leave policy in effect for one more week. That policy also applies to other city workers employed in jobs not deemed essential during the coronavirus shutdown.

“We’re going to have to make some hard choices about what to do with some of our employees,” City Manager William Bridgeo told city councilors at their April 16 meeting.

Councilors voted 8-0 at that meeting to ask all four members of Maine’s federal congressional delegation to help the city get the center through the coronavirus crisis by allowing federal funds to go to such facilities.

Augusta Civic Center

An empty Augusta Civic Center parking lot seen on April 20, 2020. Kennebec Journal staff photo by Scott Monroe

Currently, publicly-owned buildings aren’t eligible for federal stimulus or Paycheck Protection funds, as some private businesses struggling due to the pandemic are.

“It isn’t a standalone business that can declare bankruptcy, or be eligible for any of the virus stimulus money,” St. Pierre said. “We don’t get the Payroll Protection Act, none of that applies to government. So we are on the hook, and the property taxpayers of Augusta are on the hook for it.”

St. Pierre said the loss would be covered with funds from the city’s undesignated fund balance, meaning that money wouldn’t be available for other purposes, such as for emergencies or to help offset the property tax impact of next year’s budget.

Bridgeo said Bangor and Cumberland County officials, to whom he reached out so they could discuss the issue because they own similar civic centers, plan to ask their boards of officials to adopt resolves identical to Augusta’s, asking the legislative delegation for federal funding help.

At-Large Councilor Darek Grant noted civic centers don’t just benefit the city where they are located, they also benefit the region around them economically and have other important uses. He noted the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland have been designated as emergency alternative care sites by the state to help Maine’s hospitals handle an anticipated surge in coronavirus patients.

Roger Audette, fire chief and emergency management director, has said the state inquired about potentially using the Augusta Civic Center for an alternative care site, if needed, as well.

“We’re proud to have the Augusta Civic Center here,” Grant said, “but it’s also a building that provides a regional service for pretty much anything that could come our way.”

At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander said it sounds like large public venues will not be reopening for quite some time.

“It’s important our legislative representatives support us on this and we bring this forward,” she said. “Because the civic center’s ability to make income is most likely limited through the end of this year. I think September would be optimistic.”


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