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Investors: We Will Bring ECHL to Portland

Portland PiratesJust weeks after losing the Portland Pirates (AHL) to Springfield, the city and Cross Insurance Arena might land a relocating ECHL team if investors can close on a purchase for the 2017-2018 season.

Godfrey Wood is the lead investor for the group. He certainly has the hockey experience — he was GM and president of the Pirates when the AHL launched — and the business experience, serving as chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. His group is seeking to buy an existing franchise rather than spend $750,000 on an expansion franchise — a move he says will be easier and faster.

He’s also keenly aware any new team will need to structure a lease that allows for potential profits. From the Portland Press Herald:

The prospective team has already been contacted and a price worked out, Wood said, but the sale won’t be completed until a lease to play at Cross Insurance Arena is finished and the rest of his investor group is assembled…..

Wood said he is talking with other potential investors, whom he declined to identify.

“It’s a number of people who are in various stages of discussion,” said Wood, who is executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland.

Wood said he has approached the city of Portland about “relief” on parking rates and rent for office space, currently occupied by the Pirates, in a city-owned building next to the arena.

Relief will certainly be needed, as the Pirates lost $500,000 last season and were in the midst of renegotiating the Cross Insurance Arena lease before the team was sold to Springfield investors. The renegotiated lease would have shifted some food and beverage revenues to the Pirates and shifted some team costs to the arena. Now, it’s hard to say if these changes would have saved the Pirates anyway; the concessions from arena management wouldn’t have covered all the Pirates’ losses anyway, per the Portland Press Herald:

According to emails obtained by the Portland Press Herald under a Freedom of Access Act request, the Pirates in late April said the team wanted to cut the amount it paid in union fees and other staffing costs, and also sought an increased share of food and beverage sales, to cut its losses by about $290,000 annually. The team and the board that oversees the arena exchanged proposals over the course of a week and eventually narrowed the financial gap over the lease changes, but never reached an agreement. The team announced in early May, just a week after first seeking concessions, that it was being sold to a group of investors who plan to move the American Hockey League franchise to Springfield, Massachusetts.

The departure of the team, which had been the primary tenant at the arena for 23 years, reflects the difficulties in managing a publicly financed venue in an era of changing entertainment tastes. The $33 million renovation, which was completed in February 2014, was a modernization designed to draw new entertainment acts, but the arena has struggled to achieve that goal and has racked up operating losses since reopening….

In an effort to keep the Pirates, the county trustees made a final lease offer that would have saved the franchise about $140,000 a year. The Pirates’ final offer was for changes that would have saved the team, through a combination of shifting costs to the arena and increasing the Pirates’ share of revenues, as much as $185,000 a year.

RELATED STORIES: New for 2016: Springfield Thunderbirds; Pirates planning move to Springfield

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