September 7, 2013

Portland Pirates sue Civic Center over lease dispute

The lawsuit further chills relations between the local hockey team and the arena's officials.

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Brian Petrovek, managing owner of the Portland Pirates, listens at a press conference at Verrill Dana LLC in Portland on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer

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In this 2010 file photo, Dan Bailey of Yarmouth waves the Jolly Roger during a game between the Portland Pirates and Manchester Monarchs at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Cumberland County Civic Center's trustees and the owner of the Portland Pirates are headed to court after failing to reach an agreement on a lease that would keep the American Hockey League team playing at the arena for at least five more years.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Civic center officials dispute the Pirates' financial claims about the value of the initial revenue-sharing pact but did not provide an alternative figure.

"Our analysis disagreed completely with their analysis," Pratt said. "All we can do is crunch our own numbers and be responsible to the taxpayers."

The Portland Press Herald has filed a Freedom of Access request for concession revenue from previous years, which the civic center would not provide.

One issue with the April agreement centered on the team's proposed share of liquor revenue. State liquor officials said that, under state law, the Pirates couldn't share the revenue from alcoholic beverages because the team is not the liquor licensee.

After further negotiations, the trustees last month gave the Pirates an alternative arrangement in a final, 33-page lease offer that included 65 percent of food and non-alcoholic beverage sales. Petrovek rejected that offer, saying the 65 percent would not offset the team's loss of alcohol sales, which he said could exceed the total revenue from food sales.

Under other terms of the proposed contract, the Pirates were slated to get revenue from selling some of the on-ice space and splitting advertising sales from most of the rest of the arena.

The Pirates would pay the civic center $1,000 a game, instead of the $2,500 they paid previously. Under the previous lease, the Pirates received a $2,000-per-game rebate because of projected operating losses for each game.

The new lease also would cap at $6,000 the amount the team needs to pay civic center workers on game nights.

Pratt said that instead of acknowledging the civic center's offer, the team sent the trustees a series of proposed changes to the lease contract.

The civic center then set a deadline of Aug. 29 for the team to sign the contract. The team did not sign the lease.

The board held a meeting on Wednesday and made another effort to reach out to the team, giving it until 5 p.m. Friday to sign the final offer, Pratt said. Instead, the Pirates filed the lawsuit Friday afternoon.

"I find this whole situation very disappointing. It gives one a sense of desperation on the team's part. They may be trying to leverage the public opinion to get us back at the negotiating table," Pratt said. "This isn't just about money. The Pirates are trying to frame this as being about one issue and it's not. The Pirates wanted to have influence over management over the civic center. There were issues over the merchandising and locker rooms -- it's not just about one final issue."

If the Pirates fail to resolve its dispute with the civic center, playing the entire season in Lewiston is an option, Friedman said.

The Lewiston Colisee did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

"The team is prepared to do what is has to survive. The first choice is to get the home ice advantage in Portland at the civic center," Friedman said.

In order for the Pirates to get a preliminary injunction from the court, the team must establish the likelihood of the success of its arguments. It also must establish that it will suffer irreparable harm and that its injury outweighs any harm to the civic center.

The Pirates also have to answer to the American Hockey League, Friedman said. The Pirates gave dates to the league to schedule games based on the expectation that the team would be playing at the civic center, Friedman said.

"There are great concerns by the AHL on where they'll be playing," Friedman said.

The Pirates' National Hockey League affiliate, the Phoenix Coyotes, also has "grave concerns" about whether the Portland team will be in its home arena, Friedman said.

"If the Pirates are unable to return to their home ice after the renovations are done, there is a very real possibility that the Coyotes will terminate its relationship with the Pirates," the Pirates asserted in the lawsuit. "The Pirates would then be unable to stay in business."

Neither the AHL nor the Phoenix Coyotes returned calls seeking comment on Friday.

The Portland Pirates began playing at the civic center as a member of the American Hockey League during the 1993-94 season. The team was an affiliate of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League and in that first season won the Calder Cup, its first and only league championship.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Harold Friedman, second from right, of Verrill Dana LLP in Portland gives a news conference regarding a Portland Pirates lawsuit Friday. Joining Friedman are, from far left, Brett Leland and John Giffume, also with Verrill Dana, and John Petrovek, far right, part-owner of the Portland Pirates.

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer


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Today's poll: Pirates

Do you agree with the Portland Pirates decision to sue the Cumberland County Civic Center?



View Results