TRANSPORTATION

Metro Breez extending service to Brunswick

The Metro regional bus service is expanding its Breez commuter shuttle to Brunswick. Funding for a two-year pilot project was approved by the Brunswick Town Council by a 6 to 3 vote this week. The service, which already links downtown Portland to Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport, will add Brunswick stops this summer. A Brunswick expansion had been considered by the council but never pursued because of cost concerns, said Councilor Sarah Brayman, an expansion supporter. But a reduced estimate from Metro and an annual pledge of $10,000 from Bowdoin College lowered the bus service’s cost by 30 percent from its initial estimate. It will cost the town about $76,000 over the next two years for the service, Brayman said. Local employers supported the measure as a way to increase their labor pool. Service is expected to start in August. Read the story.

RETAIL

South Portland J.C. Penney on underperforming list

Morningstar Credit Ratings has included the J.C. Penney store at the Maine Mall in a list of 39 underperforming stores within the retailer’s chain of department stores. J.C. Penney announced Feb. 24 that it intends to close up to 140 stores because of lagging sales. The credit rating company assembled the list based on weaker sales per square foot than the J.C. Penney average of $120, and high-risk loans. Although the report didn’t reveal the South Portland store’s performance, it did note the Maine Mall store carries the fourth-highest loan balance – $235 million – among the 39 stores on the list. The retailer is expected to release its closure list by mid-March. In addition to the South Portland store, J.C. Penney operates stores in Auburn, Waterville, Rockland, Bangor and Presque Isle. Read the story.

LEISURE & ENTERTAINMENT

Arena to negotiate with two pro hockey groups

Trustees of Cross Insurance Arena have been authorized to negotiate with two groups interested in bringing an ECHL pro hockey team to downtown Portland. Mitch Berkowitz, chair of the arena’s board of trustees, said Wednesday that the board’s Strategic Development Committee hopes to work out a tentative lease agreement with one of the two groups in the next two months in advance of the ECHL’s board of governors meeting in June. For the ECHL to grant a franchise, any suitor would require a tentative lease agreement with a suitable arena. One groups is National Sports Services of Topeka, Kansas, whose CEO, Bill Davidson, has owned and operated several minor league hockey and baseball franchises. Davidson’s bio on the company’s website says he serves as a consultant to two ECHL franchises – California’s Stockton Thunder and Georgia’s Gwinnett Gladiators. The other is Spectra, the management firm contracted to operate Cross Insurance Arena. Spectra is a subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have a history in Portland as the NHL affiliate of the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners, which played at the downtown arena from 1977 to 1983. Portland has been without pro hockey since the AHL’s Portland Pirates were sold last May and relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts. Read the story.

Sunday River golf ownership in dispute

The former owner of Sunday River Golf Club in Newry continues to market and sell memberships for the upcoming golf season despite losing the property in January to a creditor, according to a lawsuit filed by the club’s new owner. The dispute raises the possibility that some people who paid for memberships will not have access to the golf course, which consistently has been rated as one of best in Maine by national golfing publications. The legal complaint, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, alleges that SR Golf Holdings LLC and its parent company, Harris Golf Inc. of Bath, have refused to hand over assets such as equipment and membership fees they have collected since the property was conveyed on Jan. 5 to the new owner, Portland-based Newry Holdings LLC. Meanwhile, Harris Golf continues to advertise and “collect fees for an upcoming golf season which SR Golf will not be participating in,” the complaint says. Harris Golf’s attorney, Tom Hallett, said he is “not in a position to talk too much about the lawsuit.” Still, he said the golf club rightfully belongs to SR Golf and Harris Golf. “The deed to the property was improperly executed,” Hallett said. Harris Golf filed a counterclaim Tuesday alleging that Newry Holdings and a previous creditor, Boothbay Pool I LLC, violated a forbearance agreement that would have enabled SR Golf to use new financing to meet its financial obligations and retain ownership of the golf club. Read the story.

TOURISM

Ferry service offering discounts

Passengers interested in traveling to Atlantic Canada this summer can take advantage of discounts for booking tickets early on the high-speed ferry between Maine and Nova Scotia. The promotion is being offered as Portland officials consider a request from Bay Ferries Ltd. to extend its sailing season by about a month. Bay Ferries operates the Cat service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Customers who book passage for the 2017 season before April 1 can save up to 25 percent off some tickets. The company is offering $125 off a round-trip ticket and $75 off a one-way ticket for two or more passengers and a standard vehicle between the two cities. Adult ticket prices range from $107 to $194 for round trip and $80-$141 for one-way passage, depending on seasonal sailing dates. Bay Ferries started operating the Cat service last year, replacing the slower and more expensive Nova Star Cruises. Read the story.

LEGAL

Age discrimination case advances

An age discrimination suit against Shaw’s supermarkets is moving ahead after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling considered favorable to the employees’ suit. In 2012, the regional supermarket chain announced plans to lay off 700 employees to cut costs, after its parent company, Supervalu, had back-to-back quarterly losses. In Maine, the chain eliminated 70 jobs, all of them full-time positions, which the employees’ suit claims had the effect of disproportionately harming older workers. Three laid-off workers filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging age discrimination, and the commission found in favor of those workers, using a “business necessity” standard. That standard argues that the business could have used other methods to cut costs, said Jeffrey Neil Young, the lawyer handling the suit for the employees. The impact of only laying off full-timers, Young said, meant that the move had a disproportionate effect on a protected class of workers – older ones who are protected by state laws against age discrimination. In its response to the lawsuit, Shaw’s said the court should use a “reasonable factor other than age” standard, meaning that it could show that the steps it took reflected a responsible business reason that was not intended to be discriminatory on the basis of age. Maine’s supreme court said Maine law does not contain the “reasonable factors other than age” language that exists in some federal laws, and that the Human Rights Commission was right to use the “business necessity” standard. The case was returned to U.S. District Court. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

New program simplifies aid to job seekers, employers

The state has launched a one-stop shop to pair Maine job seekers with training and other resources to get better jobs. Maine-at-Work was rolled out this month by the Department of Labor to provide employers and job seekers with one convenient, statewide point of contact to help people get hired and trained. The Maine-at-Work program operates as an umbrella organization, collaborating with existing agencies that are often limited by geography. Among the program collaborators are Aroostook Community Action Program, Coastal Counties Workforce Board, Central Western Maine Workforce Development Board, Eastern Maine Development Corp., the MDOL’s Bureau of Employment Services, Northeastern Workforce Development Board, Western Maine Community Action and Workforce Solutions. The program also offers a pipeline for employers who need to recruit certain groups of workers. Read the story.