December 7, 2013

Judge: Pirates can proceed with lawsuit against Civic Center

The hockey team wants a judge to enforce the terms of a lease agreement reached with the civic center in April.

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

A judge late Friday refused to throw out a lawsuit by the Portland Pirates that seeks to force the Cumberland County Civic Center to abide by the terms of a tentative lease agreement the two parties announced in April.

The decision by Justice Jon Nivison of Cumberland County’s Business and Consumer Court means the lawsuit can proceed, but it will likely be months before it is argued in a courtroom.

“It means we can start taking depositions and gathering documents,” said Harold Friedman, the Pirates’ team lawyer.

Dave Barry, the attorney for the civic center, said he was disappointed that the arena’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit was turned down, but said courts are generally reluctant to stop a lawsuit early in the legal process.

The suit was filed in September, more than four months after Pirates and the civic center had announced a tentative agreement on a five-year lease. The two sides, however, never agreed on a couple of key financial points and never signed the document.

Those disputed components of the lease dealt with the split of concession revenues between the team and the arena and a decision on whether the Pirates could share in “sub-naming rights,” such as the fees collected from the corporate sponsorship of one of the new luxury suites that the civic center will have when its $34 million renovations are completed.

Although the two sides announced in April that they had a deal, the civic center trustees pointed out at the time that it wasn’t a final agreement because those matters hadn’t been settled.

The two sides traded proposals throughout the summer until late August, when the trustees sent the Pirates a final offer and gave the team 48 hours to sign it. The Pirates refused to do that, and filed the lawsuit asking a judge to enforce the terms of the April deal.

They then announced that the team would play its home schedule in Lewiston this year, even once the civic center reopens in late January or February when the renovations are complete.

But attendance has plummeted in Lewiston, with the team averaging about 2,600 fans per game, compared to last year’s average of nearly 4,500 fans in Portland.

Last month, the Portland Regional Chamber got involved, urging both sides to return to the negotiating table. The Pirates quickly accepted and said they would drop their lawsuit if the civic center reopened negotiations.

Friedman reiterated that offer Friday night, but the civic center trustees have previously dismissed that proposal as hollow because the Pirates would drop the suit without prejudice, meaning they could refile it if negotiations broke down again.

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

emurphy@pressherald.com

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