Aaarrgghh!

Balls, Pucks, & Monster Trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  March 24, 2010
There is Pirate news, and not just that Penelope Cruz will star in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie as Blackbeard’s daughter. No, there is Portland Pirate news. They’re staying, even though it had looked like they might be packing up for Albany, New York, when their lease expired at the end of this season. Last week, Civic Center trustees and the team announced that they had forged a lease agreement, keeping the Pirates in Portland at least through the 2011-12 season. This made the 2964 fans on the “Keep the Pirates in Portland” Facebook page happy, but I am not so sure it’s good news. Maybe this is a terrible thing for a sports fan, or anyone with a sports column, to admit, but I was really hoping that the Pirates would leave town. That would have been better for Portland, and for all of Maine in the long run.

I grew up cheering for Dennis Patterson, Frank Bathe, and Steve Tsujiura at Maine Mariner games; I attended UMaine when the Black Bears owned Hockey East. I can even explain icing, and the neutral-zone trap, so I wasn’t hoping the Pirates would move because I don’t appreciate the game. And I have nothing against the team. I attend several contests a year, and I particularly like the skating parrot mascot, Crackers. I’m cool with the Pirates, but I wanted them to move because only that would make people in southern Maine get serious again about constructing a new civic center.

I’ve said this before (see “Unpolishable,” April 23, 2008), but it bears repeating: Maine needs a new building, and Maine needs it bad. The Cumberland County Civic Center is too old, too small, and too difficult to park near. Money spent looking for ways to improve the existing facility is money wasted. No amount of architectural alchemy will ever transform that sow’s ear of a building into a silk purse. Why even try?

This should have been taken care of a decade ago. In 1999, the Libra Foundation offered Portland seven acres in Bayside to build on and $20 million toward a new arena, but questions about where the rest of the money would come from kept it from happening. Augusta didn’t want to chip in because too many lawmakers didn’t want to see their constituents’ tax dollars go towards funding urban infrastructure, even though that view is short-sighted and unfair. I see plenty of buses from rural school districts parked along Spring Street in the winter, when it’s high-school basketball tourney time. That’s why a new arena would be a positive for all of Maine, not just our fair city. Come on! Can’t anybody get this done?

If Bayside isn’t an option anymore, then what about that land out at Thompson’s Point, behind the train station? It’s very industrial, run down, and wide open. It’s perfect. People could come into town on the Amtrak Downeaster for events, and walk from the station to the arena. Talk about green planning!

But now there is no need to really talk about it. The Pirates and trustees kicked that can down the road, but they’ll be at it again in no time. The lease is only for two years. So the issue disappears for 12 months, but then, as soon as the Pirates enter the final year on the lease they just signed, they’ll be looking for a better deal. What then? It would have been better for them to leave now. Then, the state and the city might have developed the testicular fortitude to embrace the future.

Rick Wormwood can be reached atrickwormwood@gmail.com.
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