The trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center sent the Portland Pirates a lease proposal Wednesday that could lead to the American Hockey League team’s return to the arena, where a major renovation is nearing completion.
Details of the proposed lease were not released, and Neal Pratt, the chairman of the trustees, would not provide a copy of the proposal. The Portland Press Herald has requested a copy under the state’s Freedom of Access law.
Pratt said the Pirates, who also refused to comment on the lease proposal Wednesday, have until the end of Monday to respond. “The ball is in the Pirates’ court,” he said.
If the two sides can agree on a lease, it will provide a lead tenant for the arena, which will reopen next month after being closed since April for a $34 million renovation.
The Pirates would return to playing home games in the state’s largest city instead of in Lewiston, where the team relocated after lease negotiations broke down in August. Attendance in Lewiston has been a little more than half of what it was in 2012-13, when the team played most of its home games in Portland.
Some businesses in downtown Portland and the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce have been pushing the trustees to do more to reach an agreement with the Pirates, saying the lack of a hockey team hurts bars and restaurants that draw more customers on game nights.
In April, the team and the trustees announced hey had agreed on the outlines of a new five-year lease, although the trustees said there were still a few items to negotiate.
That deal began to fall apart when lawyers for the civic center learned that state law bars a liquor license holder from sharing revenue from liquor sales with a tenant. A key piece of the agreement had called for the Pirates to get 57.5 percent of the revenue from alcohol and food sales on game nights, after expenses. The two sides couldn’t reach a deal to share only revenue from food sales.
In an effort to help break the impasse, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee endorsed legislation Wednesday that would remove the ban on sharing liquor revenue. The bill is expected to go to the Senate next week and, as emergency legislation, will take effect immediately if the Senate and House pass it and Gov. Paul LePage signs it.
Other differences emerged as the two sides tried to reach a deal last summer. Finally, in August, the trustees sent a proposal to the Pirates, calling it a final offer and giving the team 48 hours to sign. The team refused, announced that it was leaving the civic center for Lewiston’s Androscoggin Bank Colisee, and sued the civic center seeking to enforce the agreement reached in April.
Civic center officials said they would begin booking other entertainment in the renovated arena, including at least one event on a date when the Pirates had been scheduled to play a home game after the renovation.
Negotiations broke down after the Pirates sued, but in December, Pirates minority owner Ron Cain said he had purchased a majority share of the team. He withdrew the lawsuit, got the trustees to return to negotiations and became the team’s chief negotiator, replacing Brian Petrovek, the team’s managing owner and chief executive officer.
Pratt would not say Wednesday whether negotiators have bridged the differences that prevented an agreement, including a dispute over whether the Pirates could share revenue from the rights to name portions of the arena, such as a luxury suite leased by a company.
Pratt said Pirates officials and the trustees’ negotiating committee have held “regular and frequent” meetings since December. He said the new proposal is different from the offer the trustees made to the Pirates in August, but he would not detail the differences.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: