Portland Pirates get new owner, score in courtroom

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PORTLAND — The Portland Pirates hockey team, playing in Lewiston after negotiations for a new lease at the Cumberland County Civic Center failed, has a new majority owner.

Ron Cain, a co-owner of the Pirates’ practice facility in Saco who previously held a minority ownership in the team, has acquired additional shares of the team and is now the majority owner, spokesman Chris Knoblock said Tuesday. Chairman Lyman Bullard was the previous majority owner.

It’s not clear if the ownership change will affect the team’s ongoing dispute with the Civic Center’s board of trustees. But last week the team appeared to score two victories in that battle.

On Friday, a judge ruled that a lawsuit brought by the Pirates against the Civic Center can go forward. The team, an American Hockey League affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, sued in September to force the trustees to abide by a tentative lease agreement reached in April.

A one-page term sheet called for the Pirates to receive, for the first time, a share – 57.5 percent – of net profits from concession sales. But that share had to be recalculated because of state law that forbids the Pirates, without a liquor license, from receiving proceeds of alcoholic beverage sales.

Negotiations over the new formula, and a disagreement about revenue from “sub-naming” rights within the arena, deadlocked in late August. A week later, the team filed its lawsuit and announced it would play home games for the entire 2013-2014 season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

The team was previously scheduled to play 13 games there while the $33 million renovation of the Civic Center is completed, and then return to the Portland ice.

Meanwhile, business people are being urged to try to replace several of the trustees.

On Dec. 4, Portland Community Chamber of Commerce President Bill Becker encouraged attendees at a Portland Regional Chamber breakfast to volunteer for four seats on the board.

Applications were being taken until Friday 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.

Becker, a Key Bank executive, wants pro-business people on the board.

“If we are finished with the Portland Pirates or finished with AHL hockey, what are we doing to keep the lights on?” he asked. “What are we doing for the region’s businesses that thrive on a healthy Civic Center?”

With the same concern, the Portland Regional Chamber has reportedly tried to mediate new negotiations between the team and the arena. The Regional Chamber is the parent organization of Becker’s group and is led by Chairman Jim Cohen, a former city councilor and mayor, who is also a lawyer for the Pirates.

The team said it would drop the suit if the Civic Center returned to the bargaining table, according to news reports. But the trustees appear to have rebuffed the offer.

While the sparring continues, the Civic Center is in talks to house a different kind of sports team. The Maine Moose Trax, the first franchise in the new professional United States Lacrosse League, hopes to make the Civic Center its home beginning in September 2014.

At their own new home, the Pirates have seen an average attendance of 2,663, according to the AHL. Last year, playing home games at the Civic Center, the team averaged 4,444 attendees.

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