Portland, ME — If there was any doubt about the Pirates commitment to Portland and the Cumberland County Civic Center. Those doubts should be long-removed by now after the American Hockey League franchise has come to an agreement with the Cumberland County Civic Center trustees on the framework for a new 10-year lease agreement.
Pirates Managing Owner/CEO Brian Petrovek said that the deal, which is structured in multiple parts, will coincide with the potential passage of a 33-million dollar bond for renovations to the aging facility that is expected to be sent to voters in November.
The current lease, which was set to expire at the end of the April, 2012, would be extended for another two years until the 2013-14 season under the current terms, after which, the remaining eight years would be updated based on any potential renovations to the Civic Center.
“The trustee’s embraced, in concept form, a 10-year term, which is a very important step for us,” said Petrovek. “We framed (the new lease) in the context of the first two years being an extension of our current term and economics because that continues the process through in the construction phase, if the bond should passed.”
“The remaining eight years would be tied to the final numbers that come once the work is complete and the revenue streams are finalized. We’ll put into place some of the splits that we talked about that (both parties) think are fair and reasonable.”
The trustees voted Wednesday to approve a 33-million dollar renovation package by a 6-2 margin and now it heads to Cumberland County Commissioners on Monday where the three members will decide whether or not to send the bond to voters in November.
While Petrovek believes signing a long-term lease with the arena shows a serious level of investment, he’s willing to have even further discussions about sharing risks and rewards with the Civic Center should that opportunity arise.
“We consider our commitment (lease agreement) a private investment,” he said. “If an anchor tenant makes a long-term commitment, it’s a significant investment because they are contractually obligated to the market, the building and the project and we consider that a big investment.”
“We also indicated that if there is an opportunity for to find other ways to share cost, share risk and reap the benefits of the upside as partners, if there are any. We are more than willing to get into those types of discussions.”
By having an anchor tenant in place for the foreseeable future, the Civic Center would be able to turn it’s attention toward selling the idea of renovating a 34-year old building, while not raising county resident’s property taxes.“The connection between the lease and the bond is a critical one because it certainly puts into place the economics with a sense of assurity that an anchor tenant is going to be in place,” said Petrovek. It’s fair to say that we’re beginning to get a better understanding of how this all needs to work in order for this to work for all of us to get behind the bond and get out of the street to communicate, selling it over the next 90 days.”
“There are some principals that we’ve always felt was very important to figuring out when we put this request in front of the voters and that is to do everything we can to make sure that an individual’s property tax will not be affect by an investment such as this. That principal in putting together a project of this scale that protects property taxes is very important. There is a sensitivity to (raising taxes) and we are making progress in such a way that it’s not going to be dependent upon a tax increase to pay back the bond.”
Despite those assurances of not raising taxes, it’s still going to be a tough sell to a segment of the county’s population; much of the same population that rejected the original proposal of building the Civic Center in the late 70’s. Those battles eventually led to the town of Otisfield seceding from Cumberland County to join Oxford County in 1978.
While Petrovek indicated that the new lease is tied to the bond passing, he said he’s not thinking about other options at this time.
The Pirates have used relocation in the past as leverage for a new lease. The team explored Worcester as a potential home in 2005 and was in discussions with Albany last season before agreeing on the current two-year lease agreement with the Civic Center.
Should the bond fail, there is the potential of Saco becoming a potential new home of the franchise, but Petrovek wasn’t prepared to entertain those ideas instead focusing on the need to promote the Civic Center’s positives to not only to Portland area residents, but the surrounding communities.
“We’re not even contemplating failure,” he said. “There is no plan B. There won’t be a Plan B. We’ve now got ourselves on the same page and we’re now going to begin the process of how to put our political action committee together, raise the money we need to raise and formulate a very clear and crisp communication plan that will begin right after Labor Day to communicate (the need for renovations).”
“Losing is not even part of our mindset,” Petrovek stated. “We’re not going to spend any time on it because we can’t. It’s not worth it.”