March 29, 2013

Civic Center's work likely set back 3 months

Trustees and the Portland Pirates argue over who is responsible for the delay in the renovation project.

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

PORTLAND – The Cumberland County Civic Center's trustees and the arena's principal tenant are arguing over who is responsible for a delay in the ongoing renovation project that is likely to push its completion back more than three months, into early 2014.

click image to enlarge

This artist conception, an overlay on a photo of the present Cumberland County Civic Center, shows the what the southeast corner of the building will eventually look like. But the Civic Center's trustees and the arena's principal tenant are arguing over who is responsible for a delay in the ongoing renovation project that is likely to push its completion back more than three months.

Provided photo

Neal Pratt, head of the Civic Center's board, said he and other trustees asked the Portland Pirates in December to consider playing home playoff games elsewhere this year so the project's second phase -- which represents most of the $33 million renovation -- could start soon after the end of the hockey team's regular season, on April 20.

That would have allowed completion in early October, about the time the Pirates' 2013-14 season starts.

But the Pirates' lease allows them to play home playoff games at the Civic Center, which is larger than any other arena in the area.

If the Pirates made the playoffs and hosted games in Portland, Pratt said, the primary contractor and dozens of subcontractors wouldn't know when the season would end and they could get to work.

So the Civic Center scrapped the plan for starting right after the regular season. It will get started instead in June, moving back the completion date.

That will cost the Civic Center about $500,000, because of higher costs for contractors and shows that can't be booked. That will scuttle plans to replace the arena's seats.

The project's primary contractor, Cianbro, told the board's building committee that subcontractors need a firm starting date, must be scheduled precisely, and won't wait around for the outcome of a minor league hockey game to decide between working on the Civic Center or taking other jobs.

"You've got to sequence all of these subcontractors," Pratt said. "It's like herding cats."

The only way the work could start smoothly, Cianbro told the board, would be on a set date after the last possible playoff game: the seventh game of the Calder Cup finals. That's why the work was rescheduled to start June 20, even if the Pirates are knocked out of the playoffs in an early round -- or don't make the playoffs at all.

That means the renovation, originally expected to be completed by Oct. 1, won't be done until Jan. 22, barring further setbacks.

The added cost means the arena's seats won't be replaced unless donors come forward to help underwrite that cost, Pratt said.

On Friday, the team's managing owner, Brian Petrovek, said the delay isn't his fault. He said he tried to find alternatives so the work could start next month.

Petrovek said he looked into a half-dozen sites in southern Maine for playoff games, from the Colisee in Lewiston to the Portland Ice Arena.

He said he also considered an offer from the Civic Center to compensate him for any losses caused by scheduling his games elsewhere. Ultimately, officials with his club's National Hockey League affiliate, the Phoenix Coyotes, said they wanted the Pirates to play their home games in Portland, for players to gain experience competing in a playoff atmosphere.

Had he disregarded the Coyotes' preference, Petrovek said, "there would be no other team in the NHL that would do business with us based on that kind of decision."

But Pratt said the Civic Center had been asking Petrovek for an answer since early January and he didn't provide a final decision until this month. The left the board with no other option than to delay the work, he said.

Petrovek said the board was wrong to think that the work could start on April 22 in the first place. He said that the Pirates make the playoffs most years, and at the time the discussion started, the team was in first place.

The Pirates have since slid and are no sure bet for the playoffs, but Pratt said the decision has already been made.

Although Cianbro may be able to get some subcontractors started if the Pirates don't make the playoffs, he said it's likely that the work schedule and completion date would still be set back.

Pratt said the Civic Center offered to compensate the Pirates if Petrovek moved the playoff games, but when Petrovek asked for more than the $500,000 a delay would cost, that idea made no sense.

Petrovek later came back with a lower number but then told Pratt about the Coyotes' preference before the two sides could discuss that proposal in depth.

"This is not about money," Petrovek said. "The Coyotes are not about finances, it's about player development."

Petrovek blasted Civic Center officials over a drawn-out negotiation schedule for a new lease to replace the one that expires once the Pirates' season ends.

He said he wanted a new deal by October, then by December, so he could start selling tickets for the 2013-14 season.

He said there's still no deal after the latest negotiating session, on Thursday, costing his team revenue. The Civic Center's negotiators, he said, keep adding to a list of "unknowns" to explain the lack of deal.

Pratt said Petrovek's proposals for a new lease are "a moving target" and Petrovek knows the Civic Center wants to do no worse than break even.

However, Petrovek said his team has never turned a profit and he can't allow that to continue indefinitely, with a piece of the take on concessions one of his prime goals.

Still, neither Petrovek nor Pratt is raising the idea of the Pirates leaving Portland.

"I want there to be hockey in Portland," Pratt said.

"Moving the team is the last thing I'm thinking of doing," Petrovek said. "We've just got to figure out how to skin this cat."

 

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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