Maine Hockey Journal

Trustee send Pirates lease proposal

PORTLAND – The Board of Trustees for the Cumberland County Civic Center have sent a new lease proposal to the Portland Pirates on Wednesday that could end the nearly year-long saga with the American Hockey League franchise that’s called Portland home for more than two decades.

Terms of the lease proposal have not been made public. Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees, declined to get into specifics on the proposal, which was approved, 6-2, after the board met in executive session for little more than an hour.

Maine Hockey Journal has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain a copy of the lease agreement.

Pratt said the Pirates have until the end of business on Monday to accept the proposal. Pratt said that he hopes there’s an end in sight, but the Pirates will have the final say.

“The Pirates have right and opportunity to review the terms and make their own decisions,” Pratt said. “We feel that we’re at point where an agreement can be reached, which is what we’ve been working towards.”

Pirates majority owner Ron Cain said he was aware of the vote, but had not seen the proposal and declined to comment until he had time to review it with his counsel.

If the two sides can reach an agreement, it would pave the way for the Pirates to return back to the Civic Center where the team has played since it relocated from Baltimore in 1993. The hockey team has played this season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston since coming to an impasse on lease talks back in August. They were originally scheduled to play 13 games in Lewiston, while the Civic Center underwent a $37 million renovation.

The board of trustees approved a bond for $3.7 million in December for capital expenditure, which went to replace the 6,800 seats in the facility and new flooring that weren’t part of the original renovation plan.

The renovation, which began in Oct. 2012, is nearly complete and it’s expected the civic center will be operational for the Maine Home Show scheduled for Feb. 15th.

Attendance for the Pirates at the Colisee this season has been dismal. The team is currently ranked last out of 30 teams in the AHL in attendance, averaging just 2,497 per game.

Pratt said he believed the civic center staff have begun a preliminary look at scheduling should the Pirates and trustees reach an agreement, the team could potentially return to civic center at some point this season.

Business leaders from Portland had encouraged both sides to resume talks. The Portland Chamber of Commerce claimed that a lack of a hockey tenant at the civic center was hurting local restaurants, bars and hotels, who rely the traffic in the winter supplement their yearly income.

Since last August, Civic Center trustees and the Pirates have been embattled in a dispute which led to the team filing a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court for breach of contract. The Pirates had contended that a tentative agreement back in April on a new five-year lease constituted a valid lease.

The April lease agreement called for the hockey team to receive 57.5 percent of all food and beverage revenue including alcohol sales as well as 100 percent of all on-ice revenue and 50 percent of above-ice revenue. The Civic Center would retain 100 percent of all naming rights.

Both sides continued to work toward a finalized agreement; however, it was learned from the state’s liquor enforcement agency that the Pirates could not share in the alcohol revenue because they are not listed on the liquor license.

In December, Maine Senate President Justin Alfond introduced emergency legislation that would allow the Pirates and Civic Center to potentially share alcohol revenue.

Alfond, a Democrat from Portland, introduced an emergency bill that would allow professional sports franchises that do not have their own liquor license to share alcohol revenue with sporting venues that have a seating capacity of 3,000 or more. The Civic Center, Cross Insurance Center, Colisee, Augusta Civic Center and Portland Expo are five facilities that would qualify to share alcohol revenue under the current plan. The new Thompson Point facility in Portland would also qualify.

The bill was endorsed by Veterans and Legal Affairs committee on Wednesday, after hearing testimony from both Cain and Pratt last week, and will now be sent to the full legislature where if passed, as emergency legislation, would take effect immediately once signed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Pratt said that the liquor restriction was not the only issue that needed to be resolved. Another sticking point was the distribution and definition of sub-naming rights within the arena including suites. The Pirates have stated previously they believe they should be able to share in those revenue streams because it’s above ice, which the both sides would share 50-50.

Talks continued until late August when trustees sent the Pirates a final offer, giving ownership 48 hours to accept the deal or dates originally held for the team would be released for other events. The team rejected the terms and filed suit a week later to enforce the April agreement. The trustees had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but was denied by a Superior Court judge, who said the lawsuit could move forward.

In December, the Pirates announced that Cain, at the time a minority owner, had acquired a majority stake in the team. Cain immediately dropped the team’s lawsuit against the trustees in the hope of resuming negotiations. Cain and trustees negotiating committee have been speaking on a regular basis since that time.

Should the Pirates reject the lease it’s likely the team will begin looking at relocation options.

Political leaders in Glens Falls, NY have been pursuing a new AHL franchise as a replacement to the Adirondack Phantoms, who are moving to a brand new arena in Allentown, PA for next season.

Pirates’ managing owner and CEO Brian Petrovek made two separate trips to upstate New York in November, but maintained that Glens Falls was absolutely a last resort.

Glens Falls officials have been in talks with one AHL team about relocating to upstate New York for the 2014-’15 season. On Wednesday, Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond told Post-Star newspaper of Glens Falls, New York the Pirates were not the team in negotiations with the city and that he hoped to know within the next two weeks if a potential team would be relocating to Glens Falls.

Pratt declined to say whether those differences had been bridged, but did say this proposal was different from the August proposal, which the Pirates rejected.

“If those were the two major issues (alcohol revenue sharing and sub-naming rights) we feel they’ve been addressed,” said Pratt.