October 28, 2010

Pirates talk with proposed racino developers

- BETH QUIMBY

Staff Writer

The Portland Pirates have approached the developers of a proposed racino in Biddeford about becoming part of the project.

Brian Petrovek, managing owner and CEO of the American Hockey League team, said he has had conversations with the developers about including an arena in the Biddeford Downs project, should it win approval from Biddeford voters in a referendum Tuesday.

Petrovek said he has had similar conversations with Biddeford officials in the past, and with other developers in southern Maine, about a new venue for the team, which now plays at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

He said he remains committed to staying in Portland but must keep other options open in case plans for improvements to the civic center fall through.

"Our number one priority is renovation of the civic center right now. But until such time as there is closure to a plan and a strategy, we would be crazy not to listen to others," said Petrovek.

The Pirates have also eyed locations in Saco and shown interest in a proposal by Jason Snyder to build an arena on land he owns on the Westbrook-Portland line.

The $125 million racino project in Biddeford would include a grandstand for harness racing, an entertainment complex with 1,500 slot machines and a 200-room hotel on Andrews Road, west of the Maine Turnpike off Route 111.

If approved by the city's voters, the project will also need a change in state law, either by the Legislature or through a citizen initiative.

Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey, a proponent of the racino, said she and the city manager have discussed the Portland Pirates as part of a "what if" scenario.

Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for the developers, said the proposal has generated a buzz.

"We are not surprised (at Petrovek's contact), given the level of development interest around this project," she said.

Canney said the hockey team approached Ocean Properties Ltd., which is a partner with Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry, who wants to move the harness racing track to Biddeford and build the racino.

Scarborough voters have twice turned down a similar proposal in their town.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center's trustees, said he hadn't heard of any plans for a move by the hockey team, which earlier this year renewed its lease for two years.

He said the Pirates have been an active in efforts to make improvements to the arena.

"They have said they want to stay at the civic center -- unequivocally is what they told us," said Pratt.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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