Portland Pirates drop lawsuit against civic center, seek ‘middle ground’

Portland Pirate Petteri Wirtanen (26) maintains possession of the puck as Manchester Monach Matt Ryan (21) tries to keep up during the second period of action at the Alfond Arena in Orono on Dec. 19, 2007.
Portland Pirate Petteri Wirtanen (26) maintains possession of the puck as Manchester Monach Matt Ryan (21) tries to keep up during the second period of action at the Alfond Arena in Orono on Dec. 19, 2007. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 19, 2013, at 4:53 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Pirates minor league hockey team has dropped its lawsuit against the Cumberland County Civic Center following a private meeting earlier this week between the key players in the dispute.

Ron Cain, the Pirates’ new majority owner, told the Bangor Daily News that he and Neal Pratt, an attorney who chairs the civic center’s board of trustees, met on Wednesday night and agreed to reopen negotiations on a lease, which could smooth the way for the Pirates’ return to Portland. Cain said the lawsuit will be dropped “without prejudice.”

The Pirates, who have been playing home games this season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, had been in negotiations with the civic center’s board of trustees over a lease for months before the team filed a lawsuit against the civic center in early September. The major sticking point was the division of revenues generated by concessions and advertising in the venue. The team soon thereafter announced it would play its entire home schedule this season in Lewiston.

Cain’s recent emergence as the team’s new majority owner — he previously held a minority ownership — and lead negotiator seems to have thawed the relationship between the team and the civic center’s board.

“I’m bringing an open mind to it,” Cain told the BDN. “I’ve done enough negotiations in my business life to understand that you can’t draw lines in the sand, you have to ebb and flow as the negotiations go on and try to find a middle ground, which is what we agreed to do.”

It was that open-minded approach that led the civic center board “to conclude that sitting down for another meeting was a responsible step,” Pratt said in a statement. “The dismissal of the lawsuit provides the opportunity for us to determine whether both of our objectives can be achieved.”

Cain said the two parties would schedule another meeting shortly after the holidays to continue the negotiations.

One factor that will certainly affect the ongoing negotiations is a piece of legislation that Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in early November he would submit during the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 8. The bill would allow the Pirates to share in the alcohol sales revenue at the civic center without first needing to obtain a liquor license. The current prohibition on sports facilities sharing revenue from liquor sales had been a stumbling block in the prior negotiations.

“I think that will be a big part of a successful outcome,” Cain said.

The bill, LR 2669, is not specific to the situation in Portland, however. It would give athletic facilities with a capacity of 3,000 or more — including the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the Androscoggin Bank Colisee and the Augusta Civic Center — the option to share revenue from liquor sales with sports teams playing at their facilities. Cain said such a bill would help any of the large sports arenas in the state have more flexibility.

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