Published Date Written by David CarkhuffThe Cumberland County Civic Center board voted 6-3 Wednesday to move forward with a five-year lease with the Portland Pirates hockey organization, ending months of negotiations while the facility nears the end of a $33 million renovation.
"We can plan, with our newly renovated center, we will have our major tenant," said Neil Jamieson,
chairman of the board of Cumberland County Commissioners.
"The hard negotiations are over and complete," he said in an interview.
Brian Petrovek, managing owner/CEO of the Pirates, saw the approval of a new lease as "an opportunity to turn a page."
Petrovek had noted hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue to the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, because the Pirates organization was waiting on a lease and wasn't selling tickets for next season.
"It's been a very detailed and complex negotiation with the Pirates," Jamieson said.
A five-year lease with a mutual option for five more means the uncertainty is gone, and next season's tickets will start selling Thursday, Petrovek said.
After 13 amendments to an existing lease between the Pirates and Cumberland County, the new document creates a "new understanding," Petrovek said.
"This was a painstaking exercise, it's one that put us through some difficult times, but I think at the end of the day the outcome is one that we all feel good about," Petrovek said during a press conference at the Pirates' office next to the Civic Center. "It's finally put to rest the notion of one year, two years, an amendment to this."
In one of the major provisions of the new lease, 57.5 percent of the net concessions revenue from Portland Pirates events will go to the Pirates, the two sides explained.
Petrovek said, "We're looking forward to just selling more tickets, getting more people in that building. That's, for us, job one. We do that, everybody now knows we're going to benefit from a sharing of food and beverage revenue, so if there's ever a motivation for us to get more people in the building at a reasonable price, you see it as the cornerstone of this agreement."
Petrovek said he couldn't identify one particular provision of the agreement that was make or break for him.
"There's not really one way in particular to skin this cat, and it comes down to just finding that balance, that sweet spot, to where you're sharing costs and you're sharing the revenues that get generated on an equal and equitable basis," he said.
But Petrovek added that the concessions revenue sharing rose to the top of important issues.
"Historically we have not been the recipient of food and beverage revenue. That was a major opportunity for us and one that we think is critical to us having a long-term sustainable model," he said.
A delay in construction to complete the $33 million dollar voter-approved renovation of the building means a grand opening originally slated for the start of the 2013-14 Pirates season had to be pushed back. The Pirates plan to play in Lewiston in the interim.
The county faces increased construction costs because of delays as the Pirates use the Civic Center during this year's playoffs.
Jamieson said there will be a search for a business that can be offered naming rights for the arena or the Civic Center as a whole, along the lines of TD Garden in Boston.
"Because we are opening up a newly renovated building, the advertising will change, there are naming rights under the venue of the Civic Center. But there are lots of opportunities for new revenue to be produced jointly by the Pirates and the Civic Center," he said.
Jamieson said Cumberland County Commissioners will "continue to be good financial stewards" and maximize revenue from the Civic Center, which is used for a variety of live shows and convention-style events.
"It will be good that we will have a major tenant when we do the ribbon cutting ceremony in January," Jamieson said. "And it will be a good opportunity for Mr. Petrovek and his organization to reinvigorate hockey interest in the area, too."
The Pirates, celebrating their 20th anniversary in the greater Portland region, are looking to make the playoffs for the 15th time in their 20-year history and are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference with a
magic number of 1 point to clinch a playoff spot in the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Civic Center has been the home of hockey in Portland since it opened in 1977.