The Portland Pirates, Maine’s minor league hockey team, plan to move to Springfield, Massachusetts this fall in a reshuffling of the region’s pro hockey offerings.
When they do, the American Hockey League team will abandon an arena that recently underwent $34 million in taxpayer-funded renovations, with little penalty for breaking its lease.
The county-owned Cross Insurance Arena also hosts concerts and entertainment events, but bills itself as “home to the Portland Pirates of the AHL.”
It underwent a major face lift earlier this decade, funded in bonds issued by the county. The renovations were completed in February 2014, and around that time — after a tense, extended negotiating period — the Pirates signed a five-year lease to stick around at the arena.
By breaking the lease, the Pirates, who are the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers, will owe the county a maximum of $100,000, according to The Portland Press Herald.
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is not pleased.
“Tens of millions of dollars went into that facility,” the mayor, who learned of the planned move through the media, told the Press Herald. “When taxpayers put that much money into a project we should have at least been called to the table.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said Wednesday that a “broad-based local investor group” is purchasing the Pirates to move them to the city. Springfield had just lost its AHL team, the Falcons, in April. The Falcons plan to move to Tucson, Arizona, to be closer to their NHL affiliate, the Arizona Coyotes.
The Pirates had struggled with attendance in Portland, even in the immediate aftermath of the renovations. According to Mainebiz, the team’s owner had said attendance needed to average 4,000 per game in order for the Pirates to be viable. But this past season, the team averaged just 3,363 fans per game, according to the Hockey Database.
Only one team in the AHL had a lower attendance figure: The Springfield Falcons.