The Civic Center Board of Trustees held their monthly board meeting, but were in executive session for nearly two hours discussing various issues regarding lease negotiations with the Portland Pirates. Neal Pratt, Chair of the Civic Center Trustees addressed the media after the conculsion of the meeting.
Here’s a transcript of those discussions.
Any update or comment from the County Trustees on lease negotiation?“We’re still talking with the Pirates. We just finished a Board of Trustee meeting and we had a lengthy discussion about the circumstances in executive session at the board level which goes to show how committed the County is to try make something happen with the Pirates.”
“We’re schedule to meet with the Pirates today in hopes of furthering the discussion.”
Could we see a deal done today or is this still part of the negotiating process?
“It’s unlikely it’s going to happen today, it could. The issues are still being defined although I think they are fairly central. It’s a tough time economically. We’re not looking to exact anything more from the Pirates then what the circumstances have been for the last several years.”
“It’s our duty to be responsible to the taxpayer to make sure that we spend their money wisely and analyze what we get in return for that. The Pirates are looking at it from their perspective, as they should, and we’re trying to balance that and hopefully get (a lease) done.”
In Albany there’s a push to lure the Pirates. How much pressure does that place on getting a lease done?
“We certainly don’t want to lose the Pirates. They’ve been a terrific community citizen for a number of years. They’re invested here and they’ve indicated to me their desire to stay.”
“It adds a new dimension to it because I’m sure they’re an attractive candidate for that Albany slot. The Sabres – Portland NHL parent team — are 300 miles down the road and I’m sure there are some geographically synergies there that makes sense.”
“It doesn’t change, however, what our negotiating position is because we can’t do anything other than adhere to our duty to the taxpayers, as a result we have to balance what the Pirates or any sports franchise would bring to the community, both economically and culturally versus what the cost would be.”
“That’s our duty and we’re very serious about it. We’re hoping to bridge that and make a responsible decision, and keep the Pirates here long term. Our goal is to keep them locked up for as long as we can and continue with what they’ve done in the community for as long as possible.”
One of the points of contentions have been the Pirates don’t receive any concessions?
“Concessions really haven’t been a sticking point. It’s probably best to describe it as broader discussion about the economics of the whole relationship. It isn’t any particular line item.”
“To the extent that concessions generate revenue for the civic center, to the extent that we would concede a percentage of that to someone else, that would come off the bottom line from the civic center and would need to make up for that somewhere else or we’d be spending in the deficit.”
“Until last year, the civic center had six years in a row of surplus budget. Last year, because of the economy, the down turn in the concert market, and in general, we finished with deficit.”
“That’s something that been difficult. We’ve look at places where we need to cut internally, and so there is not a lot fat to transfer elsewhere, not a lot of concession ability because of cost. We’re already operating, or at least last year, in the red a little bit and we want to fix that and the Pirates want to make sure their business works as well and that’s been were the general discussion has been to try and come up with a model that works for both sides.”
How much does renovating the CCCC play into generating revenue?
“The renovations play sort of in the background a huge role in that because the Pirates have been working very closely with us and on the same page with us toward renovating the building.”
“We’re evaluating that now through an economic analysis to figure out what new revenue or enhanced revenue opportunities exist might be out there related to specific renovation options. If we had that answer right now, both sides would have the benefit of saying here are some additional revenue possibilities that we could share. We’ve talked about that, but that’s just not a certainty so the timing of the lease negotiation relative to the renovation discussion isn’t ideal for either side.”
If losses to the county are such a burden, should Cumberland County get out of the arena owning business?“The model has worked. This building has been managed very well. We get a tremendous number of concerts, even today despite a down turn in the concert industry. Despite it’s becoming a more competitive market, Portland still does very well for a 33-year old building. It’s still listed in its category as one of the top facilities in the country. We get concerts we shouldn’t get because of Portland, because of the great management this building has had over the years.”
“Secondly, this is a multi-purpose arena, and any private management company would not be as sensitive to the important community events we have. I wouldn’t say they’d go away, but they are looking at profitability and because of the public model we’re not looking to make money. We’re looking to break even. We don’t want to make money on the taxpayers so to speak, we simply don’t want to have to tax them any more either.”
“That’s why we’re able to have so many graduations, open ice skates, and schoolboy and schoolgirl basketball. Those aren’t big money makers for this facility, but it’s been a tremendous opportunity and community benefit over the years to have a facility to do that.”
If the Civic Center was in the red last year there isn’t a lot of room for negotiations?
“This is why we’re talking so cooperatively with the Pirates to try and be creative to come up with ways (to generate revenue). They’re invested in this as well. They’re not playing hardball anymore so to speak than we are. They haven’t held this Albany thing in an effort to try and say look you have to do this or else. They’ve been trying to work with us in part because they are committed to Portland.”
“If we had one more year on the lease, and a chance to get some answers on renovation that might help to resolve some of the economic challenges that both parties face in the negotiations.”
Could a short-term lease be signed to allow more time for gathering information on the renovations?
“That’s been discussed. We’re hoping to establish a longer term relationship and I know the Pirates are too, but I’d be open to (a short term lease). I wouldn’t take it off the table. The current lease has been about a break even proposition for us, and we’re not looking to take anything away, but we just don’t have a lot to give.”