September 10, 2013

Businesses see losses if Pirates leave Portland

Even if the civic center profits more from other events, the team's absence would be felt, they say.

By J. Craig Anderson
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – It would take only 15 to 20 music concerts a year for the Cumberland County Civic Center to make up any revenue shortfall associated with losing the Portland Pirates, according to a recent financial analysis.

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Dan Steele, owner of Brian Boru on Center Street, talks Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 about the potential that the Portland Pirates may not return to the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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But owners and employees of nearby businesses say the loss would hurt them financially, disrespect loyal hockey fans and be a slap in the face to Cumberland County voters who supported the arena's ongoing $34 million renovation.

"I'm surprised the Pirates were not locked in before they started the whole renovation process," said Dan Steele, a business owner who was an ardent supporter of the renovation. "Those people, in my view, have let us down."

Lease negotiations between the American Hockey League team and the civic center's trustees have led to a dispute over revenue from concessions and advertising, and raised the prospect that the team will leave after two decades in Portland.

On Friday, the Pirates sued the civic center in Cumberland County Superior Court, alleging breach of contract and seeking an injunction to prevent any booking of other events on scheduled game nights in 2013 and 2014.

Because the building is being renovated, the Pirates plan to play home games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston until January. Opening night is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Based on the county-owned arena's average yearly schedule of about 140 events and estimated economic impact of $20 million, losing the Pirates' 40 home games per season would cost the local economy about $5.7 million if the civic center couldn't replace them with comparable events.

According to a study done in 2010, when the renovation was being proposed, concerts generate the most revenue per event for the civic center, including facility rental and concessions.

The study estimated proceeds from concessions at $37,800 for each concert, minus costs of $22,680, leaving a profit of $15,120.

While the study did not specify the average concessions revenue for a Pirates game, it said Pirates fans don't spend as much as people at concerts.

However, the Pirates' home games have been a reliable source of revenue.

The civic center expects to book 26 concerts in the first year after the renovation is complete, according to the economic impact study.

Steele, who co-owns the Brian Boru bar and restaurant at 57 Center St. and owns parking lots near the civic center, said more than local businesses will be hurt if the Pirates leave Portland permanently.

"This is a countywide impact," he said. "It will impact the little guy economically and from an entertainment standpoint. I'm upset about that."

Alec Altman, who owns Binga's Stadium Smokehouse and Sports Bar, across Free Street from the civic center, said the overall effect on his business would depend on the civic center's ability to replace the hockey games with other nighttime events.

"The Pirates thing was good, because it filled the parking lots, it filled the restaurants," he said.

Altman said that on slower nights such as Tuesdays, Pirates games have boosted his establishment's sales by $2,000 to $2,500, with some of that increase offset by the cost of additional staffing.

While the civic center tends to schedule only about two dozen rock and country music concerts each year, those events bring as much or more business to Binga's, he said.

Additional concerts could make up for any shortfall from losing the hockey team, he said.

Daytime events such as home, garden and boat shows may be good for parking lot owners, Altman said, but not the bars and restaurants.

"I'm hoping the Pirates being here or not being here is not going to make or break us," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Paul Zamierowski, a customer at Brian Boru and a fan of the Portland Pirates, talks about the potential that the Pirates may not return to the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Jeff Ellis, bartender at Binga's Wingas on Free Street, said that if the Portland Pirates were not to return to the Cumberland County Civic Center, it would negatively impact the restaurant's business.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer


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