Civic Center, Pirates reach 'only deal to be made'

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PORTLAND — It wasn’t a power play, but both the Cumberland County Civic Center and its anchor tenant, the Portland Pirates professional hockey team, “lit the light” when they struck a leasing deal last week.

After more than 20 meetings, the Civic Center and the Pirates announced April 17 that an agreement on the lease had been reached. It calls for the team to play at the arena for another five years, with the potential of a five-year extension.

For months, the parties have struggled to agree.

Officials for the Civic Center, in the midst of a $33 million renovation, have said that the Pirates’ post-season play will delay this month’s planned start of the massive, second phase of the project until June. As a result, the renovation probably won’t be finished until January.

The Pirates have complained that the team should get a percentage of revenue from concession sales, and that uncertainty over the lease has prevented the team from marketing tickets for the 2013-2014 season.

But with the essential terms of the lease now in place, both the Civic Center and the Pirates are ready to move forward, said Neal Pratt, chairman of the Civic Center board of trustees.

“It took a long time to find common ground,” Pratt said Monday, “but I think both sides are pleased. This was the only deal to be made … both sides had gone as far as they could go.”

Brian Petrovek, managing owner of the Pirates, said Monday that he was “very pleased” with the agreement.

“This was all about finding an equation that worked for the Civic Center and the Pirates. … (The agreement) will give both parties a chance to break even.”

While the new lease still has to be drawn up and signed, last week’s agreement ironed out the major differences.

For the first time, the Pirates will get a share – 57.5 percent – of the profits from concession sales during home games. That amounts to about $350,000 each season, according to the team.

But the Civic Center’s concession on concessions is offset by money it will receive from the sale of advertising inside the arena, a revenue stream the Pirates previously controlled.

In addition, the team’s rent has been reduced from $2,500 per game to $1,000. But the new amount is a fixed, flat fee, while the previous rent was sometimes reduced by rebates the Civic Center gave the Pirates based on game attendance.

Renaming rights for the arena were hotly contested during the negotiations, with both parties vying for the revenue from selling the name and brand of the “new” Civic Center to a third party. That’s a common marketing technique; in Bangor, Cross Insurance Agency recently paid $3 million for the right to brand the city’s new arena as the Cross Insurance Center.

Ultimately, the Civic Center retained the rights.

“(Renaming) was a deal-breaker from the beginning,” Pratt said, “but we didn’t waver one iota.”

The Pirates will play all of their 2013-2014 home games in the Civic Center under the new agreement. Previously, the team had planned to play some of its home schedule at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. In addition, the agreement calls for sharing labor costs at home games.

The Civic Center’s renovation raised the stakes in the negotiations, creating greater unknowns for both sides, according to Petrovek.

“So much of this was based on assumptions, especially because we’re moving into a new territory, with different costs and different revenue opportunities,” he said.

But both Pratt and Petrovek said they are relieved and happy the bargaining is over, and that both sides came out with important gains.

“Both parties worked to find a solution that was sustainable,” Petrovek said. “We’ve been patient in hopes that this day would come, and we feel good.”

Pratt said the Civic Center’s goal was to break even and not impose a burden on taxpayers.

“I think we achieved that,” he said. “… Nobody on either side gave away the store.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.