February 26, 2010

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PAUL BETIT

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Responding to a report that the Portland Pirates might move to Albany, N.Y., managing owner and CEO Brian Petrovek said Friday that his priority is to negotiate a long-term lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center.

The Albany Times Union reported in Friday's editions that the American Hockey League franchise is looking into playing at the Albany Union Center next season.

''My focus is on a deal with the Cumberland County Civic Center,'' Petrovek said at a news conference at the civic center. ''There is no other deal with any other civic center, with any other county or building owner.''

The Pirates' lease with the county to operate in the civic center expires April 30. Negotiations on a new lease started last April.

''I was talking to Brian (Thursday) about the opening in Albany, and Brian, as he has forever, expressed his desire to stay in Portland,'' said Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center's board of trustees.

''Brian, as any good businessman would do, is looking at all options in his business,'' Pratt said. ''I still believe his first option is Portland. If we can work something out, that will be what can happen.''

Petrovek said he hopes negotiations for a new lease will be completed in the next eight weeks.

''My focus continues to be to establish a long-term position on this marketplace and to work to a renovation or a new building,'' he said. ''That hasn't changed since the time we moved here. Our focus continues to be renegotiating our lease.''

Ultimately, a new long-term lease agreement with the Pirates could hinge on the county's willingness to renovate the 33-year-old arena.

''A number of renovation options have been discussed,'' Pratt said. ''Right now, we're working with a company to essentially evaluate revenue streams that may be available to support some renovations work.''

Albany soon will be without an AHL team due to the franchise's sale to a North Carolina group. Starting next season, the club will operate as the Charlotte Checkers and remain an affiliate of the National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes.

In recent years, the Albany River Rats, now in their 17th season, have ranked near the bottom of the AHL in attendance.

After its first 28 home games this season, Albany ranked 26th among the AHL's 29 teams, averaging 3,515 fans per game.

After 23 home games, the Pirates are averaging 4,144 fans per game. That ranks the team 15th in the league in attendance.

Portland's attendance is down 14 percent -- an average of 684 fans per game -- from last season, the Pirates' first as the affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. The Pirates made the AHL playoffs last season and appear playoff-bound again this year.

''The fans need to know we've been in a position here for 10 years. We want to continue to grow, to continue our business,'' Petrovek said.

''I want to extend this lease. I want to get to a renovated or new building, and I want to continue to be a part of this community for a long, long time,'' he said. ''I hope the fans understand that. We're not looking for other options. We want to get the job done here.''

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

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