Portland Pirates hockey team sues civic center, says future is in jeopardy

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PORTLAND — The Portland Pirates filed a lawsuit against its home arena, the Cumberland County Civic Center, Sept. 6 after a breakdown in lease talks that hockey team officials said could force them to play elsewhere or even put them out of business.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center board of trustees, countered that the venue is prepared to seek another sports franchise to replace the Pirates as tenants in Maine’s largest market.

The stalemate comes less than two years after hockey team and civic center officials enthusiastically advocated side-by-side for a $33 million countywide bond for renovations to the arena. That work is ongoing now.

The lawsuit was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court.

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to get the home ice back for the Pirates, (their) fans and the public,” attorney Harold Friedman, representing the team during a Friday afternoon news conference, said. “That has been threatened to be taken away from the Pirates by the civic center.”

Major sticking points in the lease negotiations center around the division of revenues generated by concessions and advertising in the venue. The team initially sought 57.5 percent of the revenues from all concession sales and 50 percent of so-called “above-ice” advertisements displayed inside the civic center, terms Friedman said the civic center trustees cemented legally in an April 17 document.

The trustees in June told team officials the Pirates could not profit from the sale of alcohol because they did not have a state liquor license, so the two parties discussed increasing the team’s percentage of revenue from the nonalcoholic concessions to make up the difference in income lost by not getting a share of the alcohol sales.

Pratt said the civic center’s subsequent – and final – offer proposed to give the Pirates 65 percent of the nonalcoholic concession sales revenues.

The team in its lawsuit countered that 65 percent will not be enough, and accused the trustees of further eliminating the team’s share of the advertising revenue in their next draft of the lease proposal.

No agreement between the sides was reached by an Aug. 29 deadline set by trustees, after which the arena managers allegedly reserved the right to book other events for the 25 dates previously set aside for Pirates home games.

The team was already expecting to play 13 of its home games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston while civic center renovations continue through December.

Friedman said Friday if the team does not get a court ruling cementing its 25 game dates by Friday, Sept. 13, it will have to begin looking to schedule those games elsewhere, likely at the Colisee. Friedman filed a motion to expedite the case.

The civic center seats 6,700 people, and the Pirates say they draw an average of 4,000 fans per game.

Beyond this season, the lack of a deal with the Portland venue could have additional perils for the club, team CEO Brian Petrovek said.

Petrovek told the court in an affidavit that the Pirates’ contracts with the minor league American Hockey League and their parent National Hockey League team, the Phoenix Coyotes, are predicated upon the team’s location and stability in Maine’s largest market.

“Without being able to play at the facility, there is a very real possibility that the Coyotes could terminate our relationship with them,” Petrovek, who did not take questions from reporters Friday, said in his affidavit. “Without that relationship, the Portland Pirates would be unable to stay in business.”

Pratt said the Pirates’ characterization of the dispute – and its consequences – are meant to “create sympathy from the public.” But he said while the Cumberland County Civic Center was willing to break even on its arrangement with the team, offering more than the venue trustees did in their most recent proposal would have put county taxpayers in a position where they were “subsidizing the profits of the team.”

Pratt also said the civic center managers are prepared to find another sports franchise to play before Portland crowds if the venue’s relationship with the Pirates doesn’t turn around.

Sidebar Elements

Attorney Harold Friedman of the Portland law firm Verrill Dana, left, joins Portland Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek Sept. 6 at the firm’s One Portland Square offices to announce a lawsuit filed by the hockey team against its home arena, the Cumberland County Civic Center.