PORTLAND — The Cumberland County Civic Center and the Portland Pirates continued to jockey for position Wednesday, even as speculation built that the minor league hockey franchise would be playing its home games away.
Shortly after 5 p.m., the Pirates announced that Brian Petrovek and Ron Cain, owners of the franchise, would be holding a news conference at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston at 2 p.m. Thursday.
“I don’t imagine they would have a press conference at my rink to announce that they are playing in Portland,” said Mike Cain, operations manager for the 3,700-seat Colisee.
But Mike Cain isn’t crowing yet.
“We’re still 24 hours away,” he said, conceding that there may still be time for the civic center and Pirates to reach a deal. “We definitely have 13 games, and I’m hoping for 38.”
The Pirates are scheduled to play their first home game at the Colisee on Oct. 12. Their stated plans are to return to Portland on Jan. 17 once renovations there are complete.
But the Pirates — whose letterhead banner reads: “My Town My Team” — and the Cumberland County Civic Center are locked in bitter negotiations over a new lease.
Earlier this month, the Pirates sued the civic center, asking a judge to enforce the terms of a five-year lease announced in April. The board of trustees of the civic center, however, said the announcement noted that final negotiations were still needed on some points and no lease was ever signed.
Negotiations continued over the summer, but disagreements couldn’t be bridged over how to divide revenues from concessions and naming rights for portions of the arena.
After the lawsuit was filed, Superior Court Justice Thomas Humphrey called both sides into the Cumberland County Business Court for a settlement conference, a mediation step intended to get litigants to reach an agreement rather than move to trial. Under the rules of a settlement conference, discussions are off the record and Humphrey ordered both sides not to discuss the situation publicly.
Petrovek, the managing owner of the Pirates, said Wednesday he was expecting the civic center board to make the next move, but hadn’t heard anything by late afternoon. He said the Pirates will hold a news conference Thursday at the Colisee in Lewiston to discuss the team’s home games next year.
Mike Cain said hosting the Pirates’ home games would be a major boost for the Colisee.
“It would be a huge economic impact on the whole community. It would be fantastic,” he said.
Mike Cain said the Colisee hasn’t participated in discussions with the civic center but the prospect was raised that the Pirates might play in Lewiston.
“They did ask us previously if we did have dates available or could make dates available,” Cain said.
Lewiston has been without the Lewiston Maniacs — and a major tenant for the Colisee — since the team disbanded in 2011.
“We have a lot of hard-core hockey fans in this area who have missed the hockey and follow the Pirates,” Mike Cain said.
Earlier Wednesday, the civic center and Pirates were apparently continuing to work toward resolution of the dispute but would not say if they were making progress.
Under a judge’s order to say nothing publicly, the civic center’s board of trustees spent several hours Wednesday huddled privately with their lawyer, while the leader of the other side, the managing owner of the Portland Pirates hockey team, said he was waiting to hear from the board.
The trustees meeting ended at 3 p.m. with no announcement.
Neal Pratt, chairman of the board of trustees, did not respond to a call for comment Wednesday. Other members of the board declined comment.
Cumberland County Commissioner James Cloutier, who is not on the board, said the lawsuit has its own course to follow.
“I do not know that the settlement process has been terminated,” Cloutier said, explaining that the judge’s order remains in effect. “That doesn’t mean people have given up hope or haven’t.”
The Pirates’ lawsuit claims that the two sides had a binding agreement in April to allow the team to play in the civic center when it reopens in January after a $34 million renovation. Petrovek has said the new lease would enable the team to make a profit for the first time since it was bought in 2000.
Pratt has said the announcement in April was based on a board resolution that outlined areas of agreement, but final negotiations were needed and a final lease would require another board vote.
According to a filing by the civic center in response to the Pirates’ lawsuit, the two sides exchanged proposals until late August, when the Pirates were sent a “final offer” and given two days to sign the lease. Petrovek refused, and the team filed its lawsuit the next week.
Among the areas of dispute are advertising and concession revenues. The two sides agreed on the Pirates’ percentage of concession revenue, but state liquor officials told the civic center that the team couldn’t share sales of alcoholic beverages because it isn’t on the liquor license.
The Pirates have rejected the civic center’s subsequent offers of concession revenue, saying they wouldn’t cover the revenue lost from alcohol sales.
The two sides also disagree on revenue from “sub-naming rights” for areas such as the rink and luxury suites. The Pirates say they are entitled to half, but the civic center says the deal doesn’t cover income from naming rights.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: