PORTLAND, Maine — If the Portland Pirates are going to play anywhere other than the Cumberland County Civic Center — this year or beyond — it’s not going to be far away.
The AHL hockey club and the building’s trustees are at odds over the team’s lease to use the facility. That friction may result in even more games being shifted to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, which already is scheduled to host 13 games this season because of extensive renovations at the Portland facility.
Team CEO Brian Petrovek said Friday that’s not what the team wants but what it may be forced to do if an agreement isn’t reached.
“I say this with all due respect, I hope we don’t have to play any more games in Lewiston this year,” Petrovek said in a phone interview Friday. “However, if we can’t resolve our differences in Portland, it is our second home and it’s the first place we would look to play the remainder of our games.”
Petrovek also hinted Lewiston may be his only option if he wants to maintain his hold on the Greater Portland market.
“Our intention is to stay in this market, and there’s no other facility within a 50-mile radius inside our footprint that gives us control of the market and allows us to continue building a business that is very critically tied to our practice and training facility in Saco. There’s no place else to play, other than Lewiston, and we’re not leaving this market.”
At issue is a lease the two parties tentatively agreed to back in April. The State of Maine’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations ruled a portion of the agreement related to food and beverage revenue void because the Pirates cannot share in liquor sales since they are not the property owner.
Under the April agreement, the team was slated to get 57.5 percent of food and drink sales. The final contract civic center officials gave to the team offered 65 percent of food sales, but no alcohol sales, Petrovek said. The increase in the percentage of the food was not enough to compensate for the lost beverage sales. As a result, the Pirates asked for a greater percentage of food sales to offset the loss of alcohol sales it had hoped to get.
The second issue, according to Petrovek, deals with the definition of above-ice advertising and the revenue stream it generates.
“It’s two issues that are resolvable and fixable, for sure,” Petrovek said. “And they’re not ones we’re trying to renegotiate, we’re just trying to come up with language that reflects what we agreed to in April.”
The Pirates were already out of a home for the first half of their home schedule in 2013-14 because of a multimillion-dollar arena renovation project that county residents voted on and passed in November 2012.
The original schedule called for 12 games in Lewiston through Dec. 31. When the AHL released its official schedule, a 13th game in Lewiston appeared on Jan. 10, 2014. Multiple sources affiliated with the Colisee and with the Pirates organization have said publicly since then that even more games may be in the offing depending on how quickly the project is completed, perhaps as many as seven more for a total of 20.
But, Petrovek said, the ultimate goal is to remain based in the state’s largest market.
“We built our business on the basis of playing at a renovated civic center in Portland,” Petrovek said. “We know a lot about what’s happening [in Lewiston], and we’re playing games there, but our focus is on getting this resolved and getting this lease signed.”
Petrovek said he has offered to sit down and meet with the civic center’s board through the weekend if necessary.
“We invited them to meet with us any time through the weekend until next Wednesday,” Petrovek said. “If they’re unwilling to do that, we have to pursue other alternatives.”
But, he reiterated, leaving the state for another major market isn’t one of those options.
“This is not what we expected to have happen, but we’re not going to leave the market so that they can just get another team in here. It’s not going to happen.”