PORTLAND, Maine — A startup American indoor lacrosse league announced Monday that its first franchise aims to be based in the Cumberland County Civic Center, which has been without a confirmed sports tenant since lease talks between arena officials and the Portland Pirates minor league hockey team hit an impasse more than three months ago.
The Pirates are playing their home games this season in the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, and they have reportedly explored plans to build a new home venue on property in Saco, after playing their first two decades’ worth of games at the 6,700-seat civic center in Portland.
In early September, the hockey team sued the Cumberland County Civic Center over stalled negotiations for a lease renewal, putting additional distance between the two sides. At the time, Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center trustees, said arena officials would actively seek a new sports tenant to replace the Pirates.
According to an announcement by the nascent United States Lacrosse League on Monday, the civic center may have found one. The indoor — or “box” — lacrosse league formed just more than five months ago and now has its first franchise: the Maine Moose Trax. The league is scheduled to announce its second team on Friday.
Civic Center General Manager Steve Crane told The Forecaster on Tuesday that the lacrosse proposal is “interesting and intriguing,” but said he has had only a preliminary discussion with Plowman and Nason.
Crane said that the civic center trustees would want to discuss concession sales, advertising revenue sharing and other issues before agreeing to a lease with the new team.
The Monday announcement identified Maine native Joshua Plowman as the head of a local investment group slated to own the new team.
Portland is already home to the Double-A Sea Dogs baseball team, an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and the Development League feeder team to basketball’s Boston Celtics, the Maine Red Claws.
“We are very excited to bring professional box lacrosse to the state of Maine,” Plowman said in a statement. “This state has a great lacrosse community that deserves to see this sport played on a professional level with the USLL. This has been a dream of mine, and I am excited to see how our community embraces their new team.”
League commissioner Anthony Chase called Portland “a potential lacrosse market for many years.”
“We’re very fortunate to match a lacrosse-hungry community and a first-class facility with an ownership group committed to the success of our league,” said Chase in a statement.
“This ownership group is not only committed to the growth and longevity of lacrosse but also the growth and longevity of our new league,” echoed league chairman Nick Desrosiers.
The league plans to begin play with a 12-game schedule — six home games and six road games — in fall 2014. The Moose Trax won’t come close to replacing the Pirates in terms of calendar dates filled, as the hockey team has 38 regular-season home games each year.
Box lacrosse, which is popular in Canada, features six-on-six competition on smaller indoor fields. The United States Lacrosse League will have four 15-minute quarters and a 30-second shot clock, meaning players will be required to attempt a shot on goal within 30 seconds of gaining possession of the ball or possession will be awarded to the other team.
The USLL will be focused on the northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions, areas left largely untouched by the established National Lacrosse League.
The NLL was established in 2004 and features nine teams across the United States and Canada, and reportedly draws nearly 10,000 fans per game. The closest NLL teams to Portland are based in Toronto and Rochester, N.Y.
The Cumberland County Civic Center is currently undergoing $33 million in renovations, funded by bonds approved by county voters in 2011.
With the renovations keeping the arena closed until early 2014, the next event listed to take place there is the Maine Home, Remodeling and Garden Show in early February.