September 28, 2013

In Pirates' breakaway, both sides move on

Now that the hockey team is calling Lewiston 'home,' civic center and Portland official don't expect to 'see (them) coming back.'

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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A welder works on the exterior of the Cumberland County Civic Center on Friday. The Portland Pirates’ departure leaves the civic center without an anchor tenant.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Portland Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek said Friday he doesn’t know whether his team will ever come back to Portland, where it played for 20 years.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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"I think there could be some viability in bringing another hockey team here. It's a terrific market," said Wood, the former Pirates co-owner.

Plummer, the trustee, said he's not sure that this is the best time to attract another hockey tenant but the civic center must at least keep that option open.

Since the Cumberland County Civic Center opened in 1977, it has been home to a minor league hockey team for every year but one.

For the first 15 years, it hosted the Maine Mariners, who were affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers, then the New Jersey Devils and finally the Boston Bruins. The Mariners moved to Providence in 1992 and became the Providence Bruins. That team still exists.

After one year without a team, the civic center brought in the Pirates.

Diamond, who was on the board of trustees at the time, said no one had any doubt that another hockey team would come. This time, he's less sure but still optimistic.

Plummer, who was a Cumberland County commissioner during that bridge year in the early '90s, said there was nervousness in the community when the Mariners left.

"We all thought, 'What are we going to do to make up that revenue?' But as it turns out, we did just fine," he said.

Most of the dates left vacant in 1992-93 were filled by concerts and other events. Plummer acknowledged that it might be harder to bring concerts to Portland today than it was 20 years ago.

The civic center hosted 46 concerts in its first full year, but over the years it has lost concert dates because of its relatively small size. More modern facilities in other areas have created competition for the civic center.

In 2005, the civic center booked 20 concerts. By 2009, the number dropped to 11. And in 2012, there were only four.

With just over 6,700 fixed seats, the civic center is the state's largest arena.

The Cross Insurance Center, which opened this year in Bangor, has 5,800 fixed seats and a capacity of more than 8,000 for concerts. The Cross Insurance Center, which cost Bangor about $65 million, does not have an anchor tenant but its construction was paid for with revenue from the nearby Hollywood Casino.

The civic center's renovation was undertaken largely to make the venue more amenable to its anchor tenant and to hockey fans.

An economic analysis done in 2010, the year before the referendum in which voters approved the renovation, concluded that the civic center had to "fundamentally protect the current event schedule and optimally expand the event schedule."

It also advised the civic center to create new revenue streams.

In July, the civic center hired Front Row Marketing Services, a division of Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp., to market the naming rights, corporate sponsorships and premium seating for the renovated arena.

Front Row was the sales arm of the Pirates and also represents the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor -- it helped secure naming rights for that facility for $3 million.

It's unclear whether the Pirates' move will affect Front Row's ability to market the civic center. A representative from Front Row did not return calls for comment Friday.

Diamond said he has already heard from many people who think the civic center was treated badly by Pirates' owners.

"They said the renovations were needed or they would leave," Diamond said. "So we make renovations and they left anyway."

As the civic center looks to bring in other revenue to stem any losses, there could be ways to cut expenses.

Plummer said he plans to float the idea of not maintaining the ice for the foreseeable future, which would save cooling costs.


Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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