Published Date Written by David CarkhuffLack of a new lease to practice and compete at the Cumberland County Civic Center has carried a steep cost for the Portland Pirates, according to Pirates Managing Owner and CEO Brian Petrovek.
The fact that the Pirates executed a clause in their current lease and decided to remain at the Civic Center for the playoffs has carried a steep cost for Cumberland County because of delays to an ongoing $33 million renovation of the Civic Center, county officials have said.
On Tuesday, county officials plan to revisit the topic of the Pirates' lease negotiations, the county reported, with a special meeting of the Civic Center Board of Trustees scheduled to take place Tuesday at 8 a.m. at the offices of Bernstein Shur, 100 Middle St., West Tower. The only agenda item is a Sports Committee Report regarding lease negotiations, the county reported. The majority of the meeting is expected to take place in executive session, the county noted.
On March 29, Petrovek held a press conference and talked about "recent television reports about the team's decision to play its playoff games at the Cumberland County Civic Center and its impact on the renovation schedule as well as the status of lease discussions."
Petrovek said the lack of a lease for next season has caused losses in the hundreds of thousands because his team can not sell season tickets until he knows where they will play.
"We have nothing to sell," Petrovek said, explaining that "last year in February and March, when we were on sale, we generated $96,095 of business for this season. That's what you do. You put the next season on sale, you get deposits and oftentimes you get payments in full for season tickets. February and March of last year we brought in $96,000. We've brought in not a dime in this February and in this March."
From February through April of last year, the Portland Pirates generated $174,843 on a cash basis, Petrovek told the media. As of March 29, for lack of a new lease, the team had nothing to show to create cash sales, Petrovek told the media during the press conference.
"I'm sitting and waiting," Petrovek said, referring to the need for a trustee meeting to address a future lease for the Pirates.
That meeting is happening Tuesday, when a host of officials are expected to gather in a closed-door executive session. Status of the county's lease negotiations with the Portland Pirates will bring together Cumberland County Civic Center trustees and management and Cumberland County commissioners and county management, according to Neal Pratt, chairman of the Civic Center Board of Trustees.
"Depending on what the recommendation of the committee is, there might be a vote to approve or disapprove a potential lease agreement with the Pirates going forward," Pratt said.
The topic involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue to the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, according to Petrovek, who said that normally the franchise would be selling tickets for next season.
But Pratt pointed out that the county will face a significant cost due to a delay in construction.
"The change in the construction date is going to cost a half a million dollars or so," he estimated on Monday.
"We'd hoped to get it worked out, now that the start date is going to be in June and not in April, you can't reasonably start construction on a variable date," Pratt said.
That means with all of the "moving parts" of the renovation, it's virtually impossible to bring in subcontractors at a moment's notice, based on playoff scenarios.
"There are costs associated with that but we are going to do our best to minimize the effect of those, we are going to make this building a terrific place to watch events," Pratt said.
"There was discussion of the playoffs and where the playoffs would be played. The Pirates have determined that they want to play them here in Portland," Pratt continued.
"The Pirates do have the legal right to play the playoffs at the Civic Center which is the option they have exercised. It just means (construction in phase two) may be starting in June," he explained.
A "worst-case scenario," Pratt added, is mid-January for completion of the renovation project, which is being overseen by Cianbro Corporation.
"My hope would be by the end of the year," Pratt said.
Renovations to the northwest corner of the building on Free Street are nearing completion, Pratt said, but "the broader scope of construction" was due to start April 22. Now, because of the playoff potential, there's a mid-June start to that phase, he explained.
Petrovek said he held the March 29 press conference with the media "in hopes that at the end of the day you can make your own decision about whether we are strong-arming any of these issues, or whether we in any way are being unreasonable. ..."
While thanking a new batch of county negotiators, Petrovek said lease negotiations had not resulted in "outcomes."
Petrovek also wondered why the county operated on its construction timetable, when "we have a contractual right in our current lease to play playoffs in the Civic Center. When the renovation project began to establish its own timeline, one can assume a couple of different things about that timeline, recognizing that phase two had always attached to it an April 22 start date. One or two things were assumed," Petrovek said. "The Pirates were not going to make the playoffs or the team would play elsewhere. There's an intersection of some issues that become quite delicate."
Based on Calder Cup finals, June 19 is the latest date the Civic Center could be in use by the team, Petrovek explained.
"Phase two was not set around June 19. It was set around April 22," he said.
"One would logically pause and ask, 'How could you create a schedule like that?'" he said.
"We had to face that reality."
Petrovek said the Pirates looked at five different alternatives for practicing, training and competing, including considering venues in Lewiston, Falmouth, at North Yarmouth Academy and at Portland Ice Arena.
But when faced with the "daunting task" of recreating the Pirates home facility without distractions or disruptions, Petrovek said he discussed the issue with Phoenix Coyotes, the team's NHL partner, "and at the end of the day, it was a very easy decision for Phoenix. Why? Because we and they are in the business of developing players. For Phoenix it was all about player development."
Staying at the Civic Center made sense, Petrovek said.
"The decision was quite simple. We couldn't take those risks because we want to look at playoffs with Phoenix as an extension of a regular season player development window," he said. "When you play elsewhere, you take on risks."
Had the Pirates chosen to play the playoffs in Lewiston, "as a business we would have done better financially in the first two rounds," Petrovek added.
"It would have been great for our business to go to Lewiston, we would have sold out games in the first two rounds," he said, but dynamics would be different. There are 7,000 potential spectators in Portland, vs. 4,000 in Lewiston, so it's a different environment, he said.
"Now we're being blamed for an extended renovation schedule," Petrovek said. "Now we're being thrown under the bus.
The unfortunate reality this was phased out in such a way ... Other renovations have worked around teams.
We are tired of being blamed for a Jan. 22 start date to the building."
Pratt said the Civic Center board hopes to see rapid progress so the Civic Center is completed.
"We want the Civic Center up and running and fully operational as soon as possible. We can't provide the Pirates a venue at the start of the season as soon as we'd hoped," he said.
Petrovek said, unless the construction end date is moved up, he anticipates the Pirates will have to play between 10 and 15 home games of next season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. The Pirates played six home games there during this season. Officials from the team and Cumberland County are also trying to hammer out how to split new revenue that will be generated as a result of the renovation, including new luxury suites and naming rights to the building, according to the Pirates.
"We've got to figure out how to skin this cat. ... Moving is not in our DNA right now. We've been here for 13 years waiting for this opportunity to establish a long-term business relationship with the building. ..." Petrovek told the media during his press conference.
(On Monday, when contacted about Tuesday's county lease negotiations meeting, Chris Knoblock, director of communications and media relations for the Pirates, said, "As of right now we have nothing to add," but referred The Portland Daily Sun to a transcript of Petrovek's comments from March 29).
"We will be playing the playoffs in Portland," Knoblock did confirm.
As the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pirates haven't clinched a playoff spot, but the team only needs seven points for the rest of the year to secure a berth. That means as soon as next Wednesday in a game against Bridgeport, the Pirates could clinch a playoff berth.
The Pirates' current lease ends at the end of April although it extends longer based on how long the Pirates continue in the playoffs.
"We are as committed as we've ever been to trying to find a solution," Petrovek said.
Pratt said the meeting to discuss the lease takes on complexity.
"With the renovation, it's not a single issue, it's just making sure that any arrangement makes sense for the Civic Center and I'm sure the Pirates want to make sure it makes sense for them as well," he said.