PORTLAND — Unless an agreement is reached soon, the Portland Pirates hockey team could be moving to Saco, or leaving Maine entirely.
With attempts to re-open lease negotiations between the Cumberland County Civic Center and its anchor tenant – and to bring new blood to the arena’s board of trustees – as frozen as the December landscape, the team’s new majority owner says he is willing to wait another month before deciding where the Pirates will land.
Owner Ron Cain proposed resuming the negotiations last Friday. But his offer has not received any response, Pirates spokesman Chris Knoblock said Tuesday.
Cain, a co-owner of the Pirates’ practice facility in Saco, who previously held a minority interest in the team, recently acquired additional shares that made him the new majority owner.
Knoblock said Cain believes he must resolve the lease dispute in the next month or consider moving the team to Saco or out of the state. The Pirates are now playing home games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, which is also owned by Cain, after discussions of a new Portland lease broke down in August.
A dispute about the negotiations led the Pirates to sue the Civic Center in September. But the team recently offered to drop the lawsuit if the arena’s board of trustees returned to the bargaining table.
Business leaders have been putting pressure on both parties to do the same.
The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce has reportedly tried to mediate new negotiations between the Pirates and the board. Others are trying to bring the Pirates back by replacing the board members with trustees they believe would be more sympathetic to the concerns of the Pirates and the business community.
On Dec. 4, Bill Becker, president of the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, encouraged attendees at a Regional Chamber breakfast to volunteer for four seats on the 11-member Civic Center board.
Applications were being taken to replace three current trustees, including Chairman Neal Pratt, who has been the spokesman for the Civic Center in its dealings with the Pirates. The fourth open seat was formerly held by William Troubh, who died in November.
Usually, appointments to the board draw only a few applications. But despite receiving more than 40 responses, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners said on Friday it would postpone appointing the new members until April 2014.
In a press release, the commissioners said the delay will allow the county to recognize the “long and dedicated service” of the trustees who have overseen the Civic Center’s ongoing $33 million renovation, now scheduled to be complete by late January or early February.
But that explanation of the delay didn’t satisfy Community Chamber spokesman Chris O’Neil.
He called the postponement a “symbolic contradiction” by the county, which appeared hesitant to take action to fill the arena with a new tenant.
“(The trustees) deserve lots of credit for the leadership during the renovation. But the fact is that the most pressing matter is getting (fans) in the seats,” he said. “It would be understandable if this was perceived as resistance.”