September 18, 2013

If Pirates, civic center in talks, it's big secret

The civic center's board meets with its lawyer fighting a lawsuit by the Portland hockey team, but is silent on prospects for a deal.

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

PORTLAND – If officials of the Cumberland County Civic Center and the Portland Pirates are negotiating a lease agreement, they're doing all of their talking at the table.

The civic center's trustees met for about four hours Tuesday morning, almost all in private to talk to the lawyer they hired to defend against a lawsuit filed two weeks ago by the American Hockey League team.

The Pirates are asking a Cumberland County Business Court judge to order the civic center to honor a lease agreement reached in April. The trustees say the agreement was never signed so it was not final.

After Tuesday's meeting, board Chairman Neal Pratt said he was bound by the executive session and an order from Superior Court Justice Thomas Humphrey not to discuss the case.

"The judge made it very clear that it's all confidential," Pratt said.

Brian Petrovek, managing owner of the Pirates, returned to Maine on Monday from a weekend trip to Arizona, where the Pirates' NHL affiliate, the Phoenix Coyotes, opened training camp last week. He would not say whether the two sides are negotiating.

Last week, a settlement conference was held in an effort to avoid a trial in the Pirates' lawsuit. Settlement conferences are not public, and the discussions generally cannot be used in a trial, to encourage the sides to try new approaches.

The two sides met Sept. 11, but it isn't clear if they met after that. A Business Court clerk said no future hearings have been scheduled.

The Pirates' lawsuit claims that the two sides had a binding agreement in April to allow the team to play in the civic center when it reopens in January after a $34 million renovation. Petrovek has said the new lease would enable the team to make a profit for the first time since it was bought in 2000.

Pratt said the announcement in April was based on a board resolution that outlined areas of agreement, but final negotiations were needed and a final lease would require another board vote.

According to a filing by the civic center in response to the Pirates' lawsuit, the two sides exchanged proposals until late August, when the Pirates were sent a "final offer" and given two days to sign the lease. Petrovek refused, and the team filed its lawsuit the next week.

Among the areas of dispute are advertising and concession revenues. The two sides agreed on the Pirates' percentage of concession revenue, but state liquor officials told the civic center that the team couldn't share sales of alcoholic beverages because it isn't on the liquor license.

The Pirates have rejected the civic center's subsequent offers of concession revenue, saying they wouldn't cover the revenue lost from alcohol sales.

The two sides also disagree on revenue from "sub-naming rights" for areas such as the rink and luxury suites. The Pirates say they are entitled to half, but the civic center says the deal doesn't cover income from naming rights.

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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