March 23, 2010

Pirates, arena on a short lease

The team will stay in Portland for two years, but keep exploring other venues.

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A new lease agreement between the Portland Pirates and the Cumberland County Civic Center hasn't been signed yet, but the owner of the hockey team is already renewing the prospect of moving – within southern Maine.

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The Portland Pirates: A look back

May 22, 1992: After 15 years, the Maine Mariners leave Portland to become the Providence Bruins.

March 26, 1993: The Portland Pirates are born as owner Tom Ebright brings the Baltimore Skipjacks to Maine and signs a three-year lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center. They are affiliated with the NHL’s Washington Capitals.

Oct. 8, 1993: Pirates beat Providence 6-3 in their inaugural game.

May 30, 1994: Pirates win the AHL’s Calder Cup championship in their first season, beating Moncton 4-1 in the sixth game of the best-of-seven series. Goalie Olaf Kolzig is named MVP.

June 13, 1996: Pirates lose 2-1 to Rochester in Game 7 of the Calder Cup finals, after having the worst record in the league in mid-January.

July 14, 1997: Ebright dies of a heart attack in a Pennsylvania hospital while awaiting a heart transplant. His widow, Joyce Ebright, becomes majority owner.

Aug. 7, 1997: Head coach Barry Trotz leaves the Pirates to join the expansion Nashville Predators of the NHL. Trotz is still the only head coach the Predators have ever had.

Sept. 24, 1998: The Capitals announce they are sharing their affiliation in Portland with the Chicago Blackhawks. The resulting season (23-50-7) is the worst in the Pirates’ six-year history and the dual affiliation ends after one year.

Nov. 9, 1998: After two failed sales to local businessmen, David Fisher, his brother Richard and Chester E. Homer, a Kennebunkport businessman, buy out Joyce Ebright’s 65 percent share of the Pirates to become new team owners. Fisher had been the team’s minority owner.

Sept. 7, 2000: Lyman Bullard, a Boston sports attorney, and Brian Petrovek, a former U.S. Hockey executive, are announced as the new owners of the Pirates. The sale becomes official Oct. 20.

Feb. 3, 2003: The civic center hosts the AHL All-Star Classic, a game won by Canada 10-7 over PlanetUSA, but best remembered for its silence. One hour before the game was to begin, the mixer and the amplifier in the building’s sound system malfunctioned. The sound didn’t return until 2:58 remained in the second period.

April 27, 2005: The Capitals announce they are ending their 12-year affiliation agreement with Portland to move their minor leaguers to Hershey, Pa.

May 23, 2005: The Pirates sign a five-year affiliation agreement with the Anaheim Ducks.

July 18, 2005: Kevin Dineen is announced as the sixth head coach in Pirates history. He’s now in his fifth season as the team’s coach.

May 30, 2006: The Pirates lose 5-4 in overtime to Hershey in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Portland had not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1996.

May 24, 2008: Another playoff heartbreak: Former Pirate Tim Brent scores with 30 seconds left to lift Wilkes-Barre/Scranton past Portland 3-2 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

June 3, 2008: The Ducks end their affiliation with the Pirates, moving their minor leaguers to Des Moines, Iowa.

June 10, 2008: The Buffalo Sabres become the Pirates’ third NHL affiliate, signing a three-year affiliation agreement with a club option for two more years.

Jan. 19, 2010: The second AHL All-Star Classic is held in Portland without a hitch. Canada beats PlanetUSA again, this time 10-9 in a shootout.

March 11, 2010: Petrovek, who is weighing an offer to move the Pirates to Albany, N.Y., announces a long-term extension of the team’s affiliation with Buffalo.

March 17, 2010: Civic center trustees approve a two-year lease extension with the Pirates.

– Mike Lowe, staff writer

The civic center's board of trustees approved the two-year lease Wednesday morning. Shortly afterward, Brian Petrovek, the Pirates' CEO and managing owner, and Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees, pledged to work together toward renovating the 33-year-old arena.

Petrovek said he is "100 percent" committed to working with the county on a renovation plan, but also "100 percent" focused on the possibility of a new arena in Saco and "100 percent" interested in the possibility of a different arena somewhere in Portland.

"The (Portland) peninsula is where we truly believe we can be the most successful but at the same time, we have to have a couple of other irons in the fire," Petrovek said.

The lease was agreed to by Pratt and Petrovek on Monday and approved unanimously by the trustees on Wednesday. It concluded a month of jockeying and negotiations, during which Petrovek said he was so close to moving the team to the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., that he was considering a new team name and uniforms.

Albany is looking to replace its American Hockey League team, which will move to Charlotte, N.C., after this season.

Ultimately, Petrovek decided to keep the Pirates in Portland, in a deal that was far less lucrative than what he had sought.

Petrovek had asked for a lease of 10 years or more and a wide-ranging revenue-sharing plan that would have given him a percentage of naming rights fees and concession revenue.

The two-year lease approved Wednesday cuts the team's rent from $2,500 to $1,500 a game, waives a box-office service fee and increases attendance incentives, but provides no revenue sharing.

In return, the Pirates agreed to play all 40 home games in Portland. Two Pirates "home" games this year were in Buffalo, home of the team's National Hockey League affiliate, the Sabres, and two are scheduled in Lewiston.

Petrovek said he's happy with the deal, but not so much that he'll rule out leaving the civic center when the lease expires.

Petrovek, who is on the civic center renovation task force, said he wants to assess the likelihood of an arena overhaul before deciding whether to stay or look for a new home. He said he probably must decide within six to nine months, allowing about 18 months for building a new arena.

One possibility for a new home is Saco, he said. Petrovek is trying to work out an agreement for off-season conditioning and practices on an ice rink operated in conjunction with Orthopaedics Associates.

Petrovek said he thinks a 4,500-seat arena could be built there. Executives with Orthopaedics Associates and the Maine Hockey Group, which owns the rink, confirmed that they have had preliminary discussions with Petrovek about an arena.

John Wipfler, CEO of OA Centers for Orthopaedics, said his organization was close to signing an agreement with the Pirates for training and practice before the team's talks with Albany heated up. Wipfler also said he and Petrovek have discussed an arena, but haven't gotten into specifics.

Wipfler noted that OA Centers has about 22 acres of open land just off Exit 36 of the Maine Turnpike.

The rink there is owned by the Maine Hockey Group, which operates the Portland Junior Pirates, a collection of elite youth hockey teams, said Ron Cain, managing partner of the group.

He, too, said he has talked to Petrovek about an arena. He said the rink in Saco is too narrow and too long for the American Hockey League, so an arena would probably be built around a new rink and connected to the existing rink.

Petrovek declined to identify anyone involved with the second alternative arena, but said it would be within Portland's city limits.

The civic center's trustees have some concepts for the renovation, but are waiting for a report from consultants on the economic feasibility and cost estimates before moving ahead.

Pratt and other trustees said Wednesday that they would like to put a bond issue on the November 2011 ballot to raise money for the renovation. But by then, Petrovek is likely to have decided whether to stay in the civic center.

Pratt said he's not surprised that Petrovek is looking at alternatives.

"What happens after two years is a question mark, and that's true for the facility as well," he said, noting that without a renovation, the arena could soon be obsolete.

If voters were to reject a bond to pay for renovations, Pratt said, "It isn't just the Pirates that will be in a difficult position."

Besides renovation, "the reality is that there is no long-term solution on the table," he said.


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


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