December 19, 2013

Alfond proposes possible solution to Pirates, civic center stalemate

It would allow the team to share revenue from alcohol sales without getting a liquor license, which 'certainly makes sense,' both sides say.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine Senate President Justin Alfond said Wednesday that he has submitted emergency legislation that could allow the Portland Pirates to share revenue from alcohol sales with the Cumberland County Civic Center if the team were to return to the arena in Portland.

Alfond, a Democrat from Portland, said his legislative request was approved last month by the Legislative Council and will be submitted to the Legislature for consideration when it reconvenes in January.

Alfond’s bill would change state law so that the Pirates, who are playing this season’s home games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, could share in sales of alcohol at the civic center without applying for a liquor license.

It also would allow other athletic centers with seating capacity of 3,000 or more to share revenue from alcohol sales with professional sports teams.

The Pirates planned to start this season in Lewiston and return to the civic center after the completion of its $34 million renovation. But the American Hockey League team left Portland after suing the civic center in September, claiming that a tentative five-year lease agreement announced in April is valid.

The agreement between the team and the civic center’s trustees called for the Pirates to share in concession and advertising revenues for the first time. The Pirates were to get 57.5 percent of all concession revenue, but the civic center was told by state authorities in June that the Pirates could not share revenue from alcohol sales because the team is not on the arena’s liquor license.

The trustees say the agreement is invalid in any case because the sides agreed on only the broad outline of a lease, and more negotiations were needed for a final agreement.

The Pirates have said they will drop their lawsuit if the negotiations resume.

Alfond said he has approached both parties and each side agreed that his bill should be submitted for consideration. But there’s no guarantee that allowing the hockey team to share liquor revenue will bring both sides back to negotiations.

Brian Petrovek, the Pirates’ managing owner, said he was aware of Alfond’s bill. “It certainly makes sense to pursue,” he said. “It should be up to the Legislature to decide.”

The Pirates’ new majority owner, Ron Cain, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Earlier this week, he told the Portland Press Herald that he sent a letter to the trustees asking them to resume negotiations for a lease at the civic center.

Cain, who owns the Colisee in Lewiston and the Pirates’ practice rink in Saco, said he must resolve the lease dispute by mid-January or consider other options, such as developing an arena in Saco, moving the team out of state or selling the Pirates.

The trustees held a private meeting Wednesday night and were briefed by their attorney, Dave Barry, regarding the Pirates’ lawsuit.

Even if the trustees do resume negotiations with the Pirates, it’s not a matter that the trustees would agree to make public, said Neal Pratt, chairman of the trustees.

Pratt said Wednesday’s meeting was not just about the lawsuit. He said the trustees needed more time to review the status of contract negotiations with the civic center’s stagehands and to get an update on the facility’s budget.

The arena has been closed since June, when Cianbro Corp. embarked on the $34 million renovation. Without revenue from events, the civic center will have a “budgeted deficit,” Pratt said, but he has no idea what amount that will be. The civic center is scheduled to reopen in January.

Pratt said Alfond’s bill appears promising.

“I don’t know what Senator Alfond’s motivation is other than he believes it is good policy for the state of Maine,” Pratt said in an interview before the trustees’ executive session.

“From the civic center’s perspective, it certainly make sense, and for other venues to be able to share liquor revenues with their tenants,” he said.

Pratt indicated that the sharing of concession revenue, including money from selling alcohol, was not the only issue preventing the sides from reaching a lease agreement. He declined to elaborate, citing the pending lawsuit.

Pratt, who is an attorney, said the court case probably won’t be heard until the summer of 2014.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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