Saturday, December 7, 2013
By Edward D. Murphy firstname.lastname@example.org
and Mike Lowe email@example.com
LEWISTON -- After months of increasingly acrimonious negotiations, the Portland Pirates on Thursday said they're packing up and moving to Lewiston, at least through the end of the 2013-14 American Hockey League season.
The decision leaves Pirates fans from Greater Portland facing a 40-mile ride to see their hockey team and will cost the Pirates some sponsorship revenue. But a majority of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston is owned by Ron Cain, who also owns 40 percent of the Pirates, offsetting some of the sting of moving the team to a smaller arena and market and ensuring a cozy landlord-tenant arrangement.
The move also leaves the newly renovated Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland without a lead tenant, barely four months before it is due to re-open after a $34 million upgrade, with many of the new amenities aimed at hockey fans.
After a court-imposed silence for much of September, the two sides took off the gloves Thursday after the move was announced.
Brian Petrovek, the managing owner of the team, said Pirates fans should be "outraged" by the "ill-timed, protracted" negotiations with the trustees of the publicly owned Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, where the Pirates have played home games for most of their history, but were unable to reach an agreement on a new lease for the upcoming season.
Those talks culminated in a proposal that, he said, would have stripped the team of its value.
The head of the trustees fired back in terms that underscored just how heated negotiations had become.
"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," said Neal Pratt, who argued that the arena would have lost money if 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. The situation they find themselves in is a direct result of their own decision-making," Pratt said.
This wasn't the first time the Civic Center and Pirates have fought over the terms of the lease or came close to parting ways. In 2010, the Pirates welcomed courting by Albany, N.Y., which had just lost its AHL team, before finally coming to an agreement with the Civic Center.
But this time, the stakes were higher.
The Civic Center is in the final stages of the renovation, paid for by county taxpayers, that will add new luxury boxes, club seats and other amenities that trustees said were needed to keep the 36-year-old arena from becoming obsolete. The Pirates were supposed to return to Portland to play in the upgraded facility in January after playing home games during the first half of the season in Lewiston.
For the Pirates, those improvements provided an opportunity for the team to turn its first profit since Petrovek, Cain and Boston sports lawyer Lyman Bullard bought the team in 2000. The lease proposal had the revenue from sales of higher-priced suite, club and loge seat tickets going to the team, along with a share of concessions sales and a split of much of the advertising income.
Those stakes fostered brinksmanship in the negotiations that led finally to ultimatums, deadlines and the Pirates filing a lawsuit before the team decided to shift this year's games to the 3,737-seat Colisee in Lewiston, which is about half the size of the Civic Center and considerably older, dating to 1958. Most famously, the arena -- known at the time as the Central Maine Youth Center -- was the site of the 1965 Muhammed Ali-Sonny Liston heavyweight championship rematch, resulting in the "phantom punch" than knocked out the favored Liston in the first round.
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