October 17, 2013

Civic center starts filling void left by Pirates

So far, a monster truck event and concerts have been booked to replace lost hockey games.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Cumberland County Civic Center is moving on to life without the Portland Pirates.

click image to enlarge

In this April 9 file photo, Carrie Underwood perfroms at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. With the departure of the Portland Pirates, the civic center is looking to bring in more concerts and other types of events.

2013 Staff File Photo

click image to enlarge

Cumberland County Civic Center schedulers are working to line up events to replace Portland Pirates hockey home games, looking for activities such as this Gravity Slashers motocross exhibition in January 2010.

2010 Press Herald File Photo

The civic center’s management has started to fill some of the dates left vacant by the Pirates’ decision to play all of its home games in Lewiston this season and possibly subsequent seasons.

Steve Crane, the arena’s general manager, said he added a monster truck event for March 15 quickly, within a day of the American Hockey League team’s announcement last month that it was breaking off negotiations for a new lease with the civic center and would instead play its 2013-14 home games at the Colisee in Lewiston.

Crane said he wouldn’t have scheduled the event if the Pirates were going to play in Portland, because of the expense of taking down the hockey rink for the truck event and reinstalling it after.

Crane said he has also added two concerts in February and March, although he said he couldn’t yet disclose the name of the bands that will perform. One of the concerts is slated for a date when the Pirates had been scheduled to play a home game, Crane said.

Neal Pratt, the chair of the civic center board, said the arena’s managers have also been contacted by other teams and leagues interested in playing in Portland. He said the talks haven’t progressed to the point of formal negotiations, and a new team, if found, wouldn’t begin playing at the civic center before the 2014-15 season. Pratt would not say what teams are interested, but the Pirates hold territorial rights to Portland in the AHL, which would bar any team in that league from playing within 50 miles of Portland.

The civic center’s talks with the Pirates followed a tortuous path until April, when both parties said they had reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year deal for the Pirates to play at the arena, which is undergoing a $34 million renovation and is scheduled to reopen in January. The tentative agreement, however, had some significant unresolved issues, and negotiations continued through the summer until the civic center’s board sent the Pirates a final offer in late August.

Shortly after, the Pirates filed a lawsuit, seeking to enforce the terms of the deal outlined in April. Court-ordered negotiations went nowhere, and the Pirates said they would play this year at the Colisee, where the majority owner of the facility is also a part-owner of the Pirates.

The Pirates withdrew a request for a temporary injunction that would have required the civic center to make the arena available for Pirates home games. The civic center’s lawyer has filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.

Most of the board members were leery of talking about the situation with the Pirates because the lawsuit is still active, but the team’s name didn’t come up during an open session of the board Wednesday. The board did go into an executive session to talk with its lawyer about the lawsuit.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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