April 18, 2013

Pirates sign five-year deal to stay in Portland

The Cumberland County Civic Center is in the midst of a $34 million renovation.

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

PORTLAND - The Cumberland County Civic Center and the Portland Pirates have worked out an agreement that will keep the American Hockey League team in Portland for at least five more years.

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Brian Petrovec, managing owner of the Portland Pirates, said a new, five-year deal with the Cumberland County Civic Center may help the team post its first profit in 13 years.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The new lease announced Wednesday is the longest ever between the arena and the team, which is the civic center's prime tenant.

For the first time, the Pirates will get a share of the money that fans spend on concessions at the game. The deal calls for the team to get 57.5 percent of concession profits.

The team also will have its rent trimmed from a maximum of $2,500 per game to a fixed rate of $1,000. The sharp cut eliminates rebates that the civic center paid to the team if attendance benchmarks were not met. The Pirates also will pick up part of the cost for workers at the game.

The two sides have been trying to reach agreement since last summer while work has continued on a $34 million renovation of arena. At one point in the talks, each side publicly blamed the other for delays in starting the next phase of the renovation -- a setback that will push back the arena's reopening from early October to mid-January.

The agreement also requires the Pirates to play all home games in Portland after the arena reopens in January. Until then, the games likely will be played at the Colisee in Lewiston.

Brian Petrovek, the Pirate's managing owner and chief executive officer, said the agreement paves the way for the team to potentially post its first operating profit in 13 years. He said the deal works more like a partnership between the team and the arena.

"We both have to keep an eye on each other and we both have to communicate better," he said.

The two sides have had an occasionally contentious relationship. The last lease -- the current agreement is a one-year extension that runs out this spring -- came about only after the Pirates were publicly courted by the arena in Albany, N.Y., which had recently lost its AHL team. Petrovek had asked for numerous breaks from the civic center, including part of the revenue for naming rights, before the two sides settled on terms similar to those already in place.

Even during this round of negotiations, a deal was no sure thing, according to Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center's board, which voted 6-3 to approve the deal Wednesday.

"This was the last and only deal to be made," Pratt said. "Both sides had gone as far as they could go and if this deal hadn't been done, there was no going back to the drawing board."

Petrovek said he had proposed a more complicated formula that included the Pirates gaining a share of the proceeds from new luxury suites and some of the naming rights revenue.

It the end, he said, he agreed to take those proposals off the table in favor of a greater share of the concessions revenue.

The Pirates will make about $350,000 from its share of the concessions at games, he said.

Pratt said the civic center satisfied its goal of essentially breaking even on Pirates games, while making more money on ice shows, concerts and other entertainment events. He said the arena will likely come up short on the Pirates deal in some years, like next year's renovation-shortened season, but hopes to hit that "sweet spot" over the five-year term of the deal.

Linda Boudreau, one of the board members who opposed the deal, said the Pirates' lease wasn't lucrative enough. She said the civic center should have explored other options -- such as staging more entertainment events -- instead of tying the arena up for at least 38 nights a year, with the possibility of more nights if the team makes the playoffs.

"I just feel like it isn't the right package," she said. "It wasn't a good enough package for me to say that the other options might not be so good."

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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