Pirates Hijacked from Portland by Springfield, MA and Ron Cain

Gio DiFazio

Communications & New Media Major

 

 

Year after year, you cheer for your team with blood, sweat and tears. You follow the team experiencing the ups and downs of winning and losing, but one thing remains constant, the sense of camaraderie that comes with following a team like the Portland Pirates. The connection is impossible to replicate, and now will be harder to build this bond was broken with Portland Pirates fans on April 30th.

The news of the Pirates leaving Portland hit the street is an unorthodox manner after a 20 year season ticket holder was denied a purchase for his season tickets. The City of Portland soon caught wind of the departure, and bid farewell to our own Portland Pirates.

As reported in the Portland Press Herald, “Scott Prue of Biddeford was in the Pirates’ office at 4 p.m. to pick up a jersey won by his son in a raffle and to renew three season tickets. Ben Locke, director of ticket operations, was helping Prue with the transaction when an associate called Locke to a back room. Two minutes later, he came back and said he was sorry, but ‘apparently the team was moving to Springfield and that I had to leave the office,'” Prue said. ‘As I was leaving, I had to unlock the front door

because they had locked it.’”

Before the Pirates landed in the Civic Center the Maine Mariners were the team that took to the ice. The Maine Mariners were a much needed source of entertainment for the fast growing metropolitan area. Professional hockey in Maine soon came to ban immensely popular place where hockey fans became regulars, supporting a storied program that made the playoffs in 11 out of 15 years. In the 77-78, 78-79 and 83-84 seasons the Maine Mariners franchise found themselves hoisting the Calder Cup, as they were crowned champions, which added to the colorful heartbeat of the city.

The Mariner’s would pull up anchor and leave Portland in 1992 to be replaced by the Portland Pirates in 1993. The introduction of the Pirates to Portland was a wonderful one has the Pirates would win the Calder Cup their inaugural year. The

Pirates posted a 43-27-10 record that stands as their most successful one.

As the 90’s progressed, attendance, and the perennial success of hockey in Portland slowly declined, as did the brick faced crumbling Civic Center. 70’s style off-white walls, and brick façade’s became visions of the past as a $33 million renovation plan gained momentum. In 2011, taxpayers voted to approve a $33 million bond that detailed a major facelift for the Cumberland County Civic Center. After it was all said and done and the taxpayers approved the renovations to the Civic Center. In 2013 Civic Center management and Pirates ownership could not reach an agreement upon terms of a new lease. Ownership was not pleased with many aspect of the proposed agreement, the primary issue being the allocation of food and liquor sales between the two parties according to the Portland Press Herald. A stalemate in lease negotiations led to The Portland Pirates to play their entire home season in the Lewiston Bank Colisee.

According to the Portland Press Herald, on February 4, 2014, the year following the summer of the lease dispute, the Pirates and arena trustees reached a 5 year agreement that would have the Pirates occupying the freshly re-done arena through 2020.

The negotiations were finalized after Ron Cain bought a majority stake in the team, which led to a short lived, renewed appreciation of the hockey club. Cain leaped at the opportunity to leave Portland and the arena high and dry, after realizing that the $33 million renovation would nearly be impossible to pay back due to the trend of attendance in the arena.

The Portland Pirates had struggled to break even in previous years, so how could a $33 million renovation kick start a hockey program that has struggled turning a profit? The building was old, and did in fact need work, but one can only ponder the price tag and the plan to pay back the bond.

Were there no alternatives to a $33 million, top of the line, renovation job that completely left the old CCCC unrecognizable?

The taxpayers are left on the hook once again, as last year the building lost $600,000 and leaves the county taxpayers on the hook for the operating cost of the arena. Obviously, without the Pirates (or even with them) The Cross Insurance Arena will never be able to operate out the red unless someone comes up with a fairy tale plan.

This hockey fan, as many other hockey enthusiast must feel, remembers walking up the steep concrete steps into the glossy cement ladled lobby of the CCCC. Now a sleek new entrance with escalators carries fans into an arena the will slide into silence unless a new hockey team comes to Portland.

Cain and the Pirates were gone with the wind, and before the dust settles, if it ever will, the City of Portland needs to look long and hard at where they went wrong and should impose more sanctions against the team than the $100,000 fee that is being charged due to the breach of the lease agreement. When a reporter initially brought this issue to Mayor Strimling’s attention, he was as clueless as Scott Prue was when he was denied purchase of his season ticket.

 

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