An attempt to get the Cumberland County Civic Center’s trustees to resume lease negotiations with the Portland Pirates fell flat recently, so Portland Community Chamber of Commerce President Bill Becker is trying another tack: replace the trustees.
Becker reminded his audience at the Portland Regional Chamber’s “Eggs ‘N Issues” breakfast Wednesday morning that four trustees are at the end of their terms. He encouraged members of the business community to apply for seats on the board.
He provided information at each table at the breakfast, telling people to contact the Cumberland County manager’s office for applications, submit them by Friday and expect interviews to start the next week.
“We certainly would like to get people in there who would like to get the Portland Pirates back,” Becker said Wednesday afternoon. “I think some turnover is good.”
Board Chairman Neal Pratt, one of the four trustees whose terms are ending, could not be reached for comment.
The 11 trustees provide direction for the county-owned civic center, which is nearing the completion of a $34 million renovation without its primary tenant: the American Hockey League team that has called the arena home for two decades.
The Pirates and the trustees reached a tentative deal in April on a new five-year lease, but several significant differences remained, including the team’s share of concession sales and how to split the money for sub-naming rights – such as fees to name new luxury suites after corporate sponsors.
The two sides negotiated until the trustees issued a final offer to the Pirates in late August and gave the team 48 hours to sign a new lease. The Pirates refused, and filed a lawsuit seeking to have a court impose the terms from April’s agreement.
The team also said it would play all of its home games in Lewiston this year, including games that had been scheduled to be played in the civic center after the completion of the renovation.
The Portland Regional Chamber recently invited the trustees and the Pirates to resume talks. The Pirates – whose average attendance in Lewiston is about 60 percent of their attendance in Portland last year – agreed, but the trustees said no. The Pirates then offered to drop their lawsuit in exchange for renewed negotiations, but the trustees again refused.
The trustees have said they want to resolve the lawsuit before holding any new negotiations. They also have said that two other hockey leagues have expressed interest in playing in Portland next year, although those leagues are at a lower level than the AHL.
Becker, who heads a subgroup of the regional chamber that focuses on city issues, said downtown businesses will be hurt by the loss of the Pirates if the two sides don’t make a deal. Bars, restaurants and hotels will lose business, he said, particularly in the winter, when tourism is down.
The trustees should be willing to talk, said Becker, who hopes that four new members might provide some impetus to do that.
Pratt has been among the most adamant that the last offer the board gave the Pirates is the best the civic center can do without costing taxpayers money.
Pratt has not said definitively whether he will seek another term.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: