September 5, 2013

Pirates, civic center may go to court over lease

The team and civic center are at odds on revenues and whether an unsigned document constitutes a binding agreement.

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

PORTLAND — The Cumberland County Civic Center's trustees and the owner of the Portland Pirates may be headed to court after failing to reach an agreement on a lease that would keep the American Hockey League team playing at the arena for at least five more years.

click image to enlarge

In this 2010 file photo, Dan Bailey of Yarmouth waves the Jolly Roger during a game between the Portland Pirates and Manchester Monarchs at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Cumberland County Civic Center's trustees and the owner of the Portland Pirates may be headed to court after failing to reach an agreement on a lease that would keep the American Hockey League team playing at the arena for at least five more years.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

On Wednesday, the civic center trustees met behind closed doors with their lawyer to discuss the next move, but chairman Neal Pratt said nothing had changed and no further negotiations are scheduled.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Related Documents

'Basic business terms' approved by County trustees
A motion approved by Cumberland County trustees on April 17, 2013, outlines "basic business terms" for a lease agreement with the Portland Pirates.
PDF: One-year lease amendment from April 2012

The two sides are far apart on some major items regarding revenue, and may ask a judge to decide whether an unsigned, incomplete document constitutes a binding agreement.

It's the latest in a series of acrimonious negotiations over leases that, in the past, has had the team threatening to leave Portland.

In a proposed lease negotiated in April, the two sides agreed that the Pirates would get 57.5 percent of net food and beverage sales, something that Pirates managing owner Brian Petrovek has sought for years. Under the previous lease, the Pirates received no revenue from concessions.

Petrovek said the 57.5 percent would have worked out to about $8,000 a game, under a formula that assumed 3,250 fans spending $9 each and subtracted the cost of concessions, food preparation and state sales tax.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center's trustees, said an attorney who drafted portions of the proposal contacted state liquor officials to make sure that revenue-splitting plan was legal. The officials said that, under state law, the Pirates couldn't share the revenue from alcoholic beverages because the team is not the liquor licensee.

Last week, the civic center trustees sent Petrovek a final lease offer including 65 percent of food and non-alcoholic beverage sales, and gave him a couple of days to sign it. Petrovek refused, suggesting that the civic center was backing off the previous agreement, in particular the share of concession sales.

He said the 65 percent would not offset the team's loss of alcohol sales, which he said could exceed the total revenue from food sales.

Petrovek said he would accept a share of the civic center's naming rights instead, as long as the total dollar amount equaled what he would have received under the agreement reached in April.

The county-owned civic center would not provide figures on concession revenue from previous years. The Portland Press Herald has filed a Freedom of Access request for the figures.

Civic center officials have said the revenue projections they used during negotiations are rough estimates because concession sales are expected to increase after the renovation of the building. The ongoing $34 million project includes an overhaul of the concessions area and the addition of new items for sale.

The two sides are also at odds over advertising.

The Pirates stand to get revenue from selling some of the on-ice space and splitting ad sales from most of the rest of the arena. But Petrovek said the civic center's retention of sub-naming rights -- such as the rink and suites -- would cut into his potential ad revenue.

Most of the rest of the terms have not changed since April.

The Pirates would pay the civic center $1,000 a game, instead of the $2,500 they paid previously. Under the previous lease, the Pirates received a $2,000-per-game rebate because of projected operating losses for each game.

The new lease also would cap at $6,000 the amount the team needs to pay civic center workers on game nights.

On Wednesday, the civic center trustees met behind closed doors with their lawyer to discuss the next move, but Pratt said nothing had changed and no further negotiations are scheduled.

"We are where we were last week," he said.

He has said the civic center is not required to have the Pirates as a tenant and will look for other events to host.

Petrovek said he also has met with his lawyer and is exploring his options, but he wouldn't detail what those are.

He said he believes the terms of April's agreement give the Pirates a right to play at the civic center once the renovation is finished in mid-January, but Pratt said that deal was only a "framework."

The resolution passed at the time by the trustees authorized continued negotiations, but the proposal was never signed by either side and the board's document said a final agreement is subject to approval of the board.

Petrovek, however, said he and the civic center "agreed to a set of deal points."

The two sides also engaged in contentious negotiations in 2010, with the team threatening to leave for Albany, N.Y., which has since acquired an AHL team.

The Pirates are scheduled to start this season playing home games at the Colisee in Lewiston until the civic center renovations are finished. After that, Petrovek said, "We've got other options that may need to be taken if we're prevented from being in the building" when it reopens.

He would not specify what those are, saying only, "We intend to play in Portland."

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Pirates owner Brian Petrovek

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

  


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