The Maine Hockey Group has taken an option on a piece of city-owned land in Saco as a possible site for an arena for the Portland Pirates, but that doesn’t mean the American Hockey League team will be moving to York County anytime soon.
An arena in Saco is just one of the options the team’s owners are exploring to find a permanent home, said Ron Cain, owner of the Maine Hockey Group and a part-owner of the Pirates.
“We’ve been pretty straightforward with everyone that Portland is our number one option,” he said.
The Pirates will play all of their home games this season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston because lease negotiations broke down between the team’s owners and the trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Pirates’ home for the past 20 seasons.
“Lewiston is performing very well, and we’ll have that option,” Cain said. “Saco is being explored as a third option because it would put a civic center-type building and (our) training center all under one roof, basically.”
The Pirates now hold daily practices at the MHG Center on Lund Road in Saco.
On Monday night, the Saco City Council approved an agreement that gives the Maine Hockey Group an option to buy a 12.85-acre parcel in the city’s industrial park for $105,000.
Peter Morelli, Saco’s economic development director, said the group paid $1,000 to take the option on the property for 180 days. The option is renewable in 180-day increments at a cost of $1,000 per increment.
A large portion of the property is adjacent to an exit ramp off the northbound lanes of the Maine Turnpike.
The agreement is the latest twist in a tortuous path that began in April, when the Pirates and the civic center’s trustees reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year lease for the Pirates to play in the Portland arena, which is undergoing a $34 million renovation and is scheduled to reopen in January.
The tentative agreement left significant issues regarding revenues unresolved. Negotiations continued through the summer until the civic center’s board sent the Pirates a final offer in late August, and the Pirates refused it.
In September, the team announced that it would play its entire 36-game home schedule at the Colisee, of which Cain is majority owner. Originally, the Pirates were scheduled to play their first 13 home games in Lewiston while the renovations to the civic center were completed.
Brian Petrovek, the Pirates’ CEO and managing owner, said, “Our first option still is to play on the ice at the Cumberland County Civic Center, but we have to look at all of our options. We are proceeding along parallel scenarios.”
Cain said it could cost as much as $40 million to build a 5,000-seat hockey arena in Saco.
“We’re looking at what could be close to a $40 million option, and I’m not running hard to spend 40 million bucks,” Cain said. “From an expense standpoint, it is certainly less expensive to go to Portland.”
The team owners and the civic center board aren’t talking to each other, and the civic center is working to fill dates left open by the Pirates’ departure for 2013-14.
“I wouldn’t say it’s on the back burner because it’s in the forefront of my mind,” Cain said, “but there are no negotiations scheduled.”
Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center’s board, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Morelli said it could take 18 months to build a hockey arena in Saco, which means the Pirates would have to spend at least one more season in Lewiston.
“If that happens, we’ll have to re-evaluate,” said Brad Treliving, assistant general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Pirates’ National Hockey League affiliate. “We don’t know much about that situation right now, and I don’t think I can comment on it.”
No decision has been made on exactly where the proposed arena would be built in the industrial park.
The Maine Hockey Group already owns 23 acres in the park, and Cain said he owns another five acres near Industry Road, east of the other parcels.
“We want to be in a location that best serves our fans and our sponsors,” Petrovek said. “Saco-Biddeford might be the right market for us.”
Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: