April 9, 2013

Civic Center, Pirates face 'stubborn issues' over lease

But the hockey team CEO downplays the differences yet to be resolved with the arena negotiators.

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

PORTLAND — Negotiators for the Cumberland County Civic Center and its chief tenant, the Portland Pirates hockey team, will head back to bargaining this week to resolve two key sticking points.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the Civic Center's board of trustees, said a pair of significant issues separate the two sides, which have also sparred recently over who is to blame for a delay of more than three months in the schedule to complete the renovation of the arena.

Pratt said there may only be a couple of issues left to resolve, but they have "proven to be the more stubborn issues" in talks that began late last summer.

However, Brian Petrovek, the managing owner and chief executive officer of the American Hockey League team, downplayed the differences.

"I don't think there's anything significant at this point -- it's all solvable," he said. "I think we're close in more ways than we're apart."

The Pirates' lease runs out this year. It will end on April 20, when the AHL's regular season wraps up, but the lease includes a clause that allows the Pirates to play its playoff games in the arena.

Neither side would identify the issues that remain, but Petrovek has said he believes his team should get a share of concession sales at Pirates games. The team currently does not share in that revenue.

One issue is who is to blame for the delay in the start of the next -- and most significant -- phase of the renovation.

That work had been scheduled to start April 22. But Civic Center officials said the Pirates waited too long to tell arena officials that they wanted to host playoff games in Portland, rather than relocate them, probably to the Colisee in Lewiston.

Civic Center officials said the timing involved in freeing up arena space for subcontractor work meant that if the Pirates hosted any playoff games, the work would have to be delayed until June.

That means completion will be pushed back from early October -- when the next Pirates season kicks off -- until January.

Petrovek has also complained that the pace of lease negotiations held up his plans to sell season tickets for the 2013-14 season. Not only has that disrupted his normal flow of revenue, Petrovek said, it also means he had to scrap promotions, like one that would have allowed 2013-14 season ticket buyers to claim playoff tickets for this year.

"We're full throttle on playoff plans and we're on pause for '13-'14 ticket sales," he said.

But Pratt said the two sides have held about two dozen full-scale negotiating sessions. He also said the center's negotiating team has held even more strategy sessions and charged that Petrovek has not been consistent in his proposals, requiring more meetings to analyze his offers.

Even though Pratt said he hopes to have a deal completed by next Wednesday's Civic Center board meeting, Petrovek said he wants to come up with something sooner.

"Another week is a continuation of the same and just digs deeper holes for both of the parties," he said.

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

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