PORTLAND – The two sides in negotiations to keep the Portland Pirates in the city remained far apart Friday after Cumberland County Civic Center trustees responded to the team owner’s wide-ranging financial proposal with “a far simpler” plan of their own.

But both parties agree on one thing: Time is running out to make a deal.

Brian Petrovek, managing owner and chief executive officer of the Pirates, has proposed restructuring the team’s financial arrangement with the civic center, calling for a share of revenue from naming rights and concessions.

At the same time, Petrovek is considering a competing offer to move the team to Albany, N.Y.

The trustees of the county-owned arena met Friday morning and countered with a plan that “contemplated far simpler changes” than Petrovek’s, built off the five-year lease that ends April 30, said Neal Pratt, chairman of the board.

Pratt said he conveyed the board’s position to Petrovek during a half-hour phone conversation Friday afternoon.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a drop-dead final offer,” Pratt said. “We meant it as our position and I wouldn’t say that I’m open to any changes in it, but if he came back with something that we hadn’t thought of or made sense, we would listen to it.”

Petrovek told the Press Herald that he was surprised by Pratt’s characterization of the negotiations, but said, “We all agree there’s a sense of urgency” to finding a resolution.

“I’ve got the ball,” he said after hearing the trustees’ response to his plan. “I’ve got the ball and they don’t.”

The board and the team have been negotiating a new lease on and off for two years. In recent weeks, officials in Albany — which will lose its American Hockey League franchise to Charlotte, N.C., after this season — have been speaking with Petrovek about moving the Pirates to the Times Union Center.

The move would put the Pirates closer to their parent team, the Buffalo Sabres, although Petrovek said the National Hockey League team will support his decision regardless of where he locates the Pirates.

He said Friday that he has an offer from Albany, but no deal.

Petrovek said he wants to share in revenue that he believes the civic center isn’t pursuing quickly enough, from naming rights to the arena and interior areas to concessions, which he says could include a new mix of vendors selling food and drinks, and increasing sales.

Petrovek also said he wants a long-term deal with the civic center, probably about 15 years.

The civic center now gets all of the revenue from concessions and provides the Pirates with a $40,000 annual payment, free practice time on the ice, attendance rebates and, until this year, marketing support.

The Pirates have a deal with Portland for a share of the revenue from the civic center’s parking garage, which brought in more than $60,000 last year. The city also provides free parking for players and the team’s staff; it was valued at more than $50,000 last year.

The team pays the civic center $20,000 a year for the right to sell advertising in the arena. Petrovek said that brought in about $900,000 in cash last year, and promotional and operational support that he valued at about $200,000 a year.

The civic center’s trustees are reluctant to move quickly on selling naming rights or changing concessions because they’re looking at developing a plan to renovate the arena, Pratt said. That could make naming rights more valuable, and would probably include a new approach to concessions, he said.

Because of the uncertainty about the plan, Pratt said the civic center would prefer a shorter-term lease.

Pratt said he didn’t put a deadline on Friday’s counteroffer by the trustees. He said Petrovek indicated that he probably will respond early next week.

Petrovek said he will watch the Pirates play this weekend in Syracuse, N.Y., and then in Buffalo, where he expects to update Sabres’ management on the team’s situation for next year.

He said he may also make a side trip to Albany “to continue the due diligence” on the offer to move the team there.

He said he is continuing to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each city.

“It’s been an ongoing process that continues to connect the two different opportunities, and they both seem to still be alive,” Petrovek said. Pratt said the civic center also is mindful of other opportunities.

The Lowell Devils, an American Hockey League team in Lowell, Mass., have an arena lease that expires this year, although Pratt refused to say whether the civic center has been in contact with officials from that team.

Pratt said four other AHL teams have leases that expire at the end of the 2010-11 season.

“We’ve been very intent on working out a deal to keep the Pirates in Cumberland County,” he said. “We’re mindful of every scenario in the event this doesn’t work out.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]