September 7, 2013

Portland Pirates sue Civic Center

BY JESSICA HALL

BY JESSICA HALL

Portland Press Herald

The Portland Pirates on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Cumberland County Civic Center after both sides faced off about a disputed five-year lease agreement for the hockey team.

Pirates officials said the two sides disagreed about sharing concession sales and advertising revenue. Civic center officials, however, said the scope of the disagreements was much broader and included issues such as whether the team could have a say in the management of the arena.

The lawsuit, filed in Maine Superior Court, escalated the already-tense relationship between the civic center and its main tenant. In 2010, during long and contentious lease negotiations, the team threatened to leave for Albany, N.Y., before ultimately signing a lease extension in Portland.

The lawsuit was filed "to get the home ice back for the Pirates, its fans and the public," said Harold Friedman, an attorney with Verrill Dana LLP in Portland, who is representing the Pirates.

In the lawsuit, the team seeks to prevent the arena from breaking an unsigned, one-page resolution reached in April that called for the team to share in concession sales and advertising revenue for the first time.

The Pirates, which began playing in 1993, also said they wanted a preliminary injunction to prevent the civic center from giving away dates slated for home hockey games in the 2013-2014 season. The American Hockey League team is starting its season in Lewiston's Colisee until a planned $34 million renovation of the civic center is completed in January.

The civic center said the April agreement was only a framework for final negotiations and that any formal agreement is subject to approval by the board of trustees. The Pirates, meanwhile, asserted in the suit that the unsigned agreement is enforceable.

When asked on Friday whether the April 17 agreement had been signed by both parties, Friedman did not answer directly. He said only that the pact was "legally an enforceable agreement."

"It is clear that the parties reached a binding agreement. The civic center's unjustified refusal to acknowledge those terms, and its insistence that the Pirates execute a written document that contained terms materially at odds with the parties' agreement, is a patent and material breach of contract," the Pirates assert in the suit.

The Pirates have asked the court for an expedited hearing to consider the case. Friedman said the Pirates requested court action by Sept. 13.

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center trustees, disputes the idea that the agreement is legally binding.

"If we had an agreement back in April, what have we been negotiating over for the past five months?" he asked. "The resolution authorized continued, good-faith negotiations with the Pirates with the goal of reaching a final agreement."

At issue is what share of concessions and advertising revenue the Pirates are due. In the April resolution, the two sides tentatively agreed that the Pirates would get 57.5 percent of net food and beverage sales, something that Pirates managing owner Brian Petrovek had sought for years. Under the previous lease, the Pirates received no revenue from concessions.

The 57.5 percent would have worked out to about $8,000 a game, under a formula that assumed 3,250 fans spending $9 each and subtracted the cost of concessions, food preparation and state sales tax, Petrovek said earlier this week. He appeared at the Friday news conference called to discuss the lawsuit, but did not speak or answer questions.

Civic center officials dispute the Pirates' financial claims about the value of the initial revenue-sharing pact, but did not provide an alternative figure.

"Our analysis disagreed completely with their analysis," Pratt said. "All we can do is crunch our own numbers and be responsible to the taxpayers."

(Continued on page 2)

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