Monday, March 10, 2014
LEWISTON — After months of increasingly acrimonious lease negotiations with trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Portland Pirates said Thursday that they're packing up and moving to Lewiston, at least through the 2013-14 American Hockey League season.
The Portland Pirates will play their entire AHL schedule this season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
That will leave Pirates fans in parts of Greater Portland with a 40-mile ride to see their team play, and will cost the Pirates some sponsorship revenue.
The move also leaves the arena in Portland without a lead tenant, barely four months before it is due to reopen after a $34 million renovation that includes many new amenities designed for hockey fans.
Following a court-imposed silence for much of September, the two sides took off the gloves Thursday after the Pirates announced their move.
Brian Petrovek, the team's managing owner, said fans should be "outraged" by the "ill-timed, protracted" negotiations with the trustees of the publicly owned arena, where the Pirates have played home games for 20 years.
The two sides failed to reach an agreement on a new lease for the upcoming season. The talks culminated in a proposal that would have stripped the team of its value, Petrovek said.
The head of the trustees, Neal Pratt, fired back, saying, "It's very unfortunate that the Pirates, on their way out of town, chose to take shots at the civic center's trustees after months and months of negotiations and results that they had control over."
Pratt said the civic center would have lost money if the trustees had accepted the team's terms.
"The Pirates' wounds are self-inflicted and they were made very knowingly by very smart business people and lawyers," Pratt said. "The situation they find themselves in is a direct result of their own decision-making."
The civic center is in the final stages of the renovation, paid for by county taxpayers, that will add luxury boxes, club seats and other amenities that the trustees said were needed to keep the 36-year-old arena from becoming obsolete.
SOME FEEL MISLED, OTHERS SHRUG
Before the referendum on the renovation in 2011, county officials undertook an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at convincing voters in outlying areas of the county that the project would be worth such a significant investment.
On Thursday, some town officials said they felt misled by the county.
"I was somewhat astounded" by the Pirates' departure, said Mary Fernandes, chairwoman of Casco's selectmen. "It's a bit shocking, especially after all the money that was spent to upgrade the building."
Fernandes said that in 2011, many Casco residents questioned the wisdom of spending so much on a building they rarely visited.
Ann Farley, a selectwoman in Sebago, said she was disappointed by the Pirates' decision. "Now we are going to pay dearly for the team leaving," she said.
That doesn't have to be the case, said Richard Feeney of Portland, a former county commissioner who retired in January after 12 years in office, and who supported the renovation.
"I don't feel that losing the Pirates is going to be that big of a loss," he said, because the civic center will be able to fill now-vacant dates with outside acts, including concerts.
"That, to me, is going to offset the loss of the Pirates," he said, and the arena could attract another hockey team.
Margo Knight, a Brunswick town councilor, said, "Do I feel misled? No. My vote was cast (for the civic center bond) knowing there would be uncertainty in the future."
(Continued on page 2)