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Civic Center Tries to Resolve Concessions Dispute with Portland Pirates
09/04/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

The board of the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland met in closed session this morning to discuss legal options in the wake of a spat with the Portland Pirates, the center's primary sporting tenant. Discussions on a new contract between the Pirates and the Civic Center - which is currently undergoing a $33 million renovation - halted last week when the hockey team rejected a concessions revenue-sharing deal. Tom Porter reports.

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Civic Center Tries to Resolve Concessions Dispite
Originally Aired: 9/4/2013 5:30 PM

Neal Pratt 2

Emerging from Wednesday morning's three-and-a-half hour meeting, Civic Center board chairman Neal Pratt (right) chose his words carefully.

"I'm not going to comment on the discussion that we had today, in terms of our legal rights," he said. "I think the best way to characterize that is to say that the the board is digesting, essentially, the advice we got today from counsel to understand our legal position better."

A tentative contract agreement was drawn up back in April, in which the American Hockey League team looked set to receive 57.5 percent of the combined food and alcohol sales at its matches. The Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations, however, said it would be against state law for the Pirates to share in liquor revenue because the team is not the property owner.

"Once we learned that that's the liquor enforcement bureau's interpretation," Pratt says, "we went back - we informed the Pirates - and we went back and discussed an alternative to try to figure that out."

The alternative the Civic Center came up with was to offer the Pirates 65 percent of food sales. This was not enough for the hockey team, however, who also had complaints about other aspects of the proposed contract, such as advertising revenue.

Last week the Portland Pirates - an affiliate of the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes - refused to sign the lease by Thursday's deadline. Pirates owner-manager Brian Petrovek did not respond to a request for comment, but last week he hinted to the press that he was considering legal action.

Chairman Neal Pratt says the Civic Center board is now preparing for that eventuality. "And now we're just looking at our legal position - it's responsible to do so," he says. "If they are going to consider that, we certainly need to be prepared to respond. And that's what we did today."

Although the deadline for the lease agreement has passed, city of Portland officials are still hoping a deal can be reached to keep the Pirates at the Civic Center, according to spokeswoman Nicole Clegg. "The City of Portland is has benefited from having the Pirates here locally," she says, " and we would be hopeful that issues could get resolved so they could stay here."

The AHL hockey season begins next month, and the Portland Pirates are scheduled to play home games at the Lewiston Colisee stadium for the rest of the year while the renovation work is completed at the Civic Center in Portland. If no agreement is reached, the Pirates will have to find a new venue.

One possibility would be to play more games at the Colisee in Lewiston - something which Lincoln Jeffers says would be popular with local residents. "Oh absolutely - it would be very well received," he says.

Jeffers is director of economic development for the City of Lewiston, a hockey-mad town which has been without a full-time professional hockey team since 2011, when the Lewiston Maineiacs departed. Lewiston began hosting Portland Pirate home games last season, a temporary agreement which may become permanent.

Jeffers says the economic impact has been positive. "It's a town that has always been very enthusiastic about hockey and the whole heritage of it, and to have that calibre of hockey in town was very well-received," he says. "You know, the restaurants do better, and just that energy that comes to town."

There is one potential snag however: A deal was recently reached to bring a full-time professional junior hockey team back to the Colisee next year when the Pirates return to Portland. But if the Pirates end up staying in Lewiston, that new team could then be left without a venue.

Photo: Tom Porter


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