Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates make offer to drop lawsuit

There may be a breakthrough in the ongoing lease dispute between the Portland Pirates and board of trustees for the Cumberland County Civic Center.

The Pirates have offered to drop its lawsuit against the civic center’s board if they will agree to reopen negotiations with the intent of reaching a new long-term lease agreement with the hockey team that’s called the city of Portland home for the last 20 years.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the Pirates have asked to restart negotiations in the attempt to reach an agreement on a new lease with the 36-year-old facility that’s currently undergoing renovations. In exchange, the Pirates will drop its lawsuit that’s currently pending in Cumberland County Superior Court.

The case has been in the courts since September when the Pirates filed the lawsuit against the civic center, claiming breach of contract. The Pirates contends that an April agreement constitutes a legal binding lease. The trustees say that’s not the case, but rather it was a path to further negotiations. The trustees have asked Superior Court Justice John Nivison to dismiss the case.

The trustees met on Wednesday for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting, spending nearly two hours in executive session discussing the ongoing litigation.

Neal Pratt, the Civic Center’s Chairman of the Board, refused to comment on the specifics, but said the case was moving forward as expected.

Attorneys representing both sides met with Justice Nivison on Friday for a scheduling conference to set a timeline for the proceedings moving forward.

According to the Pirates, the main issues that remain is how to share food and beverage revenues since the state’s liquor enforcement agency indicated that the Pirates could not share in revenues from alcohol sales because they are not listed on the liquor license as well as how to spilt revenues from above-ice advertising including sub-naming rights.

While Pratt acknowledges those two issues remain, there are various other issues that have held up any agreement on a new lease. Petrovek said that’s not true and believes both parties are close to an eventual deal.

Petrovek said they’ve had no discussions with the civic center even though they’ve attempted to restart talks with the trustees on several occasions even by use of a third party.

Petrovek even indicated that he would step aside to allow another member of the ownership group to negotiate a new lease, however, they’ve receive no response from the civic center’s board on either request.

“We’ve attempted by third parties. We tried to reach out them directly, which is very frustrating. All we want to do is finish what we’ve started. We were not very far away.”

With the Civic Center currently in the midst of a $34 million dollar renovation, set to open in February, political pressure from the state and local level is beginning to build to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.

Last month, Maine Senate President Justin Alfond introduced a bill (LR: 2669) that would allow professional sports franchises to share in alcohol revenues with large type civic centers such as the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland City Councilor Ed Suslovic and Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall have been working toward bringing the trustees and Pirates back to the table to restart talks.

“We’re not that far apart,” said Petrovek. “The wordsmithing has been done. It’s not that difficult. We want to get a deal done. The community wants to get a deal done.

“We just have to sit down and finish what we’ve started.”

If no deal can be reached, the Pirates may be forced to look at alternatives. Petrovek recently toured the city of Glens Falls, NY, who is losing its AHL team at the end of the season. He said it was simply a fact-finding mission and his first option is to remain in the Portland market.

“We’re looking strongly within our radius because we own this territory. We’re not focused on other alternatives, but we have to keep our eye what else is out there.”

Other options include moving to Saco and building a new 5,000-seat facility where the team recently secured a land option on 13 acres near the Maine Turnpike and their training facility, the OA Sports Center, on Lund Rd. Petrovek also mentioned Biddeford as a location for a new arena, but never went into specifics.

There is also the option for remaining at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston where the Pirates currently call home. Petrovek said they’re determining if it’s a viable American Hockey League market. The Pirates are currently ranked 28th in a 30 team league averaging 2,680 though eight games to start the season.

Another option that’s been kept silent to date has the Pirates teaming up with the ownership group of the NBA D-League’s Maine Red Claws, expanding the capacity of the new facility that’s being planned for Thompson Point near the Portland Transportation Center and I-295 in Portland.

Petrovek said any decision on the Pirates future will be made quickly, no later than early January. He said that was imperative the team knows what it’s doing by then so it can begin marketing and selling season tickets for the following season.

According to a letter sent to Hall, obtained by the Press Herald, the Pirates would like to restart talks by Dec. 3rd.

“We’ve got two months to figure this out for 2014-’15, otherwise we’ll stub our toes and we’re not doing that again,” Petrovek said.