November 26, 2013

Civic center trustees reject new talks with Pirates

They cite several reasons for declining to resume bargaining even though the Portland team offered to drop its lawsuit.

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

The Cumberland County Civic Center’s trustees have rebuffed an invitation to resume negotiations with the Portland Pirates, eliminating the prospect of a quick resolution to the stalemate over a new lease for the American Hockey League team.

click image to enlarge

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 have rebuffed an invitation to resume negotiations with the Portland Pirates, eliminating the prospect of a quick resolution to the stalemate over a new lease for the American Hockey League team.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

In a letter to Chris Hall, chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber, the trustees declined the chamber’s offer to host a meeting between the two sides. A copy of the letter was seen Monday by the Portland Press Herald.

Hall invited the Pirates and the trustees to meet several weeks ago. The trustees initially declined, citing the lawsuit that the team filed against the trustees in September. On Friday, the Pirates offered to drop the lawsuit if the trustees would come to the bargaining table by Dec. 3. The board rejected that offer Monday.

“The trustees do not believe that a chamber-sponsored ‘private’ meeting between representatives of the civic center and the Pirates is the appropriate forum for resolution of this matter,” said the letter from the trustees’ lawyer, David Barry of Pierce Atwood. “The judicial forum, and not the Chamber of Commerce, is the appropriate venue for resolution of the Pirates’ litigation.”

Pirates officials said they were disappointed by the trustees’ stance.

“We owe it to the people of this region, to the businesses of this region, to look ahead and resolve our differences so when the newly renovated civic center opens this winter, there’s a plan to move forward with the American League Hockey and the Pirates working together with the civic center,” said James Cohen, a partner with Verrill Dana, counsel for the Pirates.

Brian Petrovek, managing owner of the Pirates, could not be reached for comment.

The civic center and the Pirates reached a tentative agreement in April that called for a five-year lease in which the team would share in concession sales and advertising revenue for the first time.

The agreement specifically called for more negotiations, the trustees said. Those negotiations failed to produce a final deal, and in September the team filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the trustees from breaking the tentative agreement.

In their letter, the trustees cited several reasons for declining the invitation to resume negotiations, including the Pirates’ repeated rejection of their lease offer, the Pirates’ demands for further concessions, and the team’s request to discuss “the same financial issues that have already been hashed over for many months.”

The trustees also objected to the fact that the Press Herald had published a story Saturday that reported on the letter from the Pirates to the Chamber of Commerce in which the Pirates offered to drop their lawsuit. In that story, chamber CEO Hall did not comment specifically on any letter, but made general comments about urging both sides to talk.

The trustees “strongly believe that the Pirates’ invitation to return to negotiations of issues that have been fully negotiated already is not in the taxpayers’ best interest,” the letter said. “The trustees continue to believe that their final offer was consistent with the interests of Cumberland County taxpayers and the trustees’ desire to keep the Pirates in Portland.”

The trustees said the negotiations ended in August after more than 50 meetings and hundreds of written and telephone communications. The Pirates, however, contend that only one face-to-face meeting has been held since April.

“We believe that face-to-face negotiations between the parties would be a positive step,” Cohen said. “Everything on the table is resolvable.”

Without a lease to play home games at the arena in Portland, the Pirates have been playing in front of small crowds at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. The Colisee’s majority owner is a part-owner of the Pirates.

(Continued on page 2)

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