September 7, 2013

Portland Pirates sue Civic Center over lease dispute

The lawsuit further chills relations between the local hockey team and the arena's officials.

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Portland Pirates on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Cumberland County Civic Center after both sides faced off over a disputed five-year lease agreement for the hockey team.

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Brian Petrovek, managing owner of the Portland Pirates, listens at a press conference at Verrill Dana LLC in Portland on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer

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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 are 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

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Pirates officials said the two sides disagreed over revenue sharing for concession sales and advertising revenue. Civic center officials, however, said the scope of the disagreements was much more broad and included issues such as whether the team could have a say in the management of the arena.

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court, escalated the already tense relationship between the civic center and its main tenant. In 2010, during long and contentious lease negotiations, the team threatened to leave for Albany, N.Y., before ultimately signing an extension in Portland.

The lawsuit was filed "to get the home ice back for the Pirates, its fans and the public," said Harold Friedman, an attorney with Verrill Dana LLP in Portland who is representing the Pirates.

In the lawsuit, the team seeks to prevent the arena from breaking an unsigned, one-page resolution reached in April that called for the team to share in concession sales and advertising revenue for the first time.

The Pirates, who began playing in 1993, also said they wanted a preliminary injunction to prevent the civic center from giving away dates slated for home hockey games in the 2013-2014 season. The American Hockey League team is starting its season in Lewiston's Colisee until a planned $34 million renovation of the civic center is completed in January.

The civic center said that the April agreement was only a framework for final negotiations and that any formal agreement must be approved by the board of trustees. The Pirates, meanwhile, asserted in the suit that the unsigned agreement is enforceable.

When asked on Friday whether the April 17 agreement had been signed by both parties, Friedman did not answer directly. He said only that the pact was "legally an enforceable agreement."

"It is clear that the parties reached a binding agreement. The civic center's unjustified refusal to acknowledge those terms, and its insistence that the Pirates execute a written document that contained terms materially at odds with the parties' agreement, is a patent and material breach of contract," the Pirates assert in the suit.

The Pirates have asked the court for an expedited hearing to consider the case. Friedman said the Pirates requested court action by Sept. 13.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center trustees, disputes the idea that the agreement is legally binding.

"If we had an 'agreement' back in April, what have we been negotiating over for the past five months?" he asked. "The resolution authorized continued good-faith negotiations with the Pirates with the goal of reaching a final agreement."

At issue is what share of concessions and advertising revenue the Pirates are due. In the April resolution, the two sides tentatively agreed that the Pirates would get 57.5 percent of net food and beverage sales, something that Pirates managing owner Brian Petrovek had sought for years. Under the previous lease, the Pirates received no revenue from concessions.

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, Petrovek said earlier this week. He appeared at the news conference Friday that was called to discuss the lawsuit, but did not speak or answer questions.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Harold Friedman, second from right, of Verrill Dana LLP in Portland gives a news conference regarding a Portland Pirates lawsuit Friday. Joining Friedman are, from far left, Brett Leland and John Giffume, also with Verrill Dana, and John Petrovek, far right, part-owner of the Portland Pirates.

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer


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Today's poll: Pirates

Do you agree with the Portland Pirates decision to sue the Cumberland County Civic Center?



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