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Maine Senate President Seeks Resolution to Pirates' Dispute
11/05/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

A Portland lawmaker has introduced legislation that he hopes could help resolve an ongoing dispute that prompted the Portland Pirates minor league hockey team to leave the Cumbeland County Civic Center and move to Lewiston for the season. Senate President Justin Alfond says the bill would allow large civic centers to share revenue from liquor sales with professional athletic teams. But as Mal Leary reports, Civic Center officials say there's more to the story than just a dispute over liquor revenues.

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After months of negotiations that grew very public, and very contentious, the Portland Pirates announced in September they were moving the hockey team to Lewiston this season.

After 20 years of the Pirates playing at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the controversy has stirred a lot of avid Pirates fans, including Senate President Justin Alfond, who has introduced a bill that he says will clarify Maine law on how revenue from liquor sales can be shared.

"Whoever owns the liquor license, right now under current law, cannot share any of that liquor license revenue with a non-holder of the liquor license," Alfond says. "So what this law - excuse me, what this bill - is trying to propose is to try to change that so there are more options."

Alfond says he has spoken with both Civic Center trustees and the Pirates, and is hopeful that the legislation will help restart talks that broke off after the Pirates filed suit against their long-time landlord.

"I hope that this legislation, even though it does not look like it will help this season for the Portland Pirates, will get both of them back to the table, negotiating on how to bring the Portland Pirates back to the Civic Center here in Portland."

Brian Petrovik, the managing owner of the Pirates, praises Alfond's efforts, and says he's hopeful it will lead to a re-opening of negotiations.

"It can certainly help clear the air and establish a much cleaner landscape for situations like this, not just for us but for other teams down the road," Petrovik says. "As far as it impacting the parties having a conversation, we hope that perhaps it will be an impetus to do that."

But Neal Pratt, chairman of the Civic Center board of trustees, says the pending lawsuit brought by the Pirates is the real issue, and that with the matter in the courts, there is little he can say.

"I wouldn't offer a comment one way or the other, in terms of impact on - you know, what impact it could have," Pratt says. "I think the lawsuit is the pending status between the Pirates and the Civic Center with regard to that process."

Pratt does say that the sharing of liquor revenues is only one of the on going issues, and that Alfond's bill, if passed, would not solve all of the problems.

"I think in terms of the resolution that the board passed back in April that at least contemplated future negotiations, I think it was contemplated as one of the possible items to share revenues, including liquor revenues," Pratt says.

Other issues include naming rights for facilities within the Civic Center - such as luxury suites - and advertising revenue from the signs placed throughout the facility.

But Pirates Manager Brian Petrovik says the sharing of liquor revenues was the issue that caused a breakdown in negotiations, and that Alfond's bill could pave the way for an agreement.

"I think representing it or characterizing it as a key issue I think is accurate," he says. "There were a couple of other issues that I don't think were as important, but certainly from a mathematical and economic perspective, the interpretation from the liquor commission certainly was a change in the way we had negotiated the numbers, that's for sure."

Alfond hopes talks can resume if lawmakers pass his legislation when they reconvene in January.


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