The Portland Pirates have returned home to downtown Portland for the 2014-2015 season. The Pirates played the 2013-2014 season in nearby Lewiston, ME at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee due to renovations to their longtime home, the former Cumberland County Civic Center. Originally scheduled to play in Lewiston for only 14 games, the Pirates’ stay upstate was extended to an entire season due to a lengthy lease dispute between the Pirates management and the CCCC board of trustees.
Renovations to the building, which cost Cumberland County taxpayers $34 million and took 15 months to complete, touched almost every corner of the facility. The old, cramped lobby was expanded and split in half to house the box offices on one side and to enclose the concourse inside the arena on the other. Additional concession stands were added, along with renovations to the existing restrooms and the addition of several women’s restrooms.
Private party areas for sponsors or promotions were added, and the legendary cramped concourses were widened by up to four feet. Six luxury boxes were added, and the old seating was replaced with new cushioned seats. Two new loading bays were added along with a new industrial kitchen, which will allow for more elaborate food preparation on site. Locker rooms were renovated, allowing for more mixed use than was possible before. The old “suicide stairs” at the corner of Spring and Center Streets were removed and replaced with a new entry lobby. The old stairs were never used, but had to be shoveled in the winter due to their use as an emergency fire exit.
The building also got a new corporate name when Cross Insurance ponied up $2.5 million for a 10 year naming rights deal. The Pirates returned home to downtown Portland on October 12 with a 3-2 win over the Providence Bruins.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Despite the renovations to the concession areas throughout the Cross Insurance Arena, there has not been a whole lot of changes to the menu here in Portland. The biggest change that fans will notice upon entering the arena is the new Dunkin' Donuts stand and the Maine craft beer stand in the new lobby area. New to the arena are two new concession stands, located at opposite ends of the concourse, offering steak and cheese subs, burgers, and sausage sandwiches, all for $7. McCain French fries can also be purchased at these stands for $3.25 or $5. Items can be combined into a combo meal for $9.
There are two concession stands down either side of the arena. The menu does not stray very far from the basics, with hot dogs ($3.25) and pizza slices ($3.25) the featured items. Hungry hockey fans can also select popcorn ($3.25/$4.75), pretzels ($3.25), or nachos ($3.50). Assorted candies and ice cream novelties can also be purchased at these stands. Pepsi products ($3.25/$5) are featured at the Cross Insurance Arena.
While the prices and quality of food here isn't bad, with the variety of options available in the immediate area of the arena, visiting fans would be best advised to save their appetite and check out some of the local eateries before or after the game.
The atmosphere at a Portland Pirates game is typical of what you would find at most minor league hockey rinks, meaning that play stoppages are filled with music, promotions, and videos on the scoreboard designed to get fans to make some noise. The fans here at Cross Insurance Arena are a good mix of die-hard hockey fans, and families, and the Pirates tailor their game day experience towards the families in attendance. Salty Pete, the Pirates mascot, roams the crowd, throwing t-shirts (and the occasional stuffed animal) to an eager audience.
In addition, the Pirates run a 50/50 raffle and schedule giveaways throughout the season. Local youth hockey teams take the ice during intermission, and school choruses sing the national anthem before the game. It makes for a fun atmosphere for the many children in attendance on any given night.
Ask any seasoned traveler of the AHL circuit about their favorite destinations, and most would rank Portland at or near the top. The city has cultivated a reputation as a culinary and artistic hot spot, and one of the best small cities to visit on the east coast.
Cross Insurance Arena is located between the Downtown and Old Port neighborhoods in Maine's largest city. Portland's downtown is home to many fine museums, galleries, and shops, as well as several fine dining locations. Visitors to the area will find the world-class Portland Museum of Art, the Children's Museum, and the Maine Historical Society, along with several other fine museums, theaters, and music venues, all within walking distance of the arena.
Portland has attracted a diverse mix of young professionals, artists, and students, and a walk along Congress Street will provide a glimpse of Portland's modern culture mixed in with historical sites such as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.
Walk down towards the waterfront through the Old Port neighborhood to find even more dining, shopping, and entertainment options. While the area remains a working waterfront, Commercial Street has cultivated a neighborhood of some of the finest seafood restaurants in the nation. Maine is famous for its lobsters and other fine seafood, and in the restaurants located here, the food comes literally right out of the ocean and on to your table. Even in the cold of a Maine winter, a stroll through the Old Port is worth your time.
For visitors who prefer a different type of shopping experience, the huge LL Bean Store is located 20 minutes north on Interstate 295 in Freetown. The downtown area is chock full of shops and eateries, and is a most popular destination during the holiday season.
Also located in the Portland area are several microbreweries that are worth a visit for any beer aficionado, such as the Sea Dog Brewery and Sebago Brewing Company. There are close to 20 different brewpubs in and around Portland that brew and sell their beers on-site.
Before the renovations to the Cross Insurance Arena, the Pirates averaged in the range of 4,400-5,100 fans per game, which ranked them consistently in the middle third of the AHL attendance rankings. Maine hockey fans are some of the most knowledgeable and passionate you will find anywhere. Maine is located solidly in Boston Bruins country, so if you are planning to attend a game against the Providence Bruins, you might want to consider purchasing a ticket in advance, as the building fills up for these matchups.
A concerning note is that only 5,600 fans showed up for the rechristening of the arena on opening night 2014. Whether fans are still upset over the departure of the team for an entire season and stayed away in protest is still to be determined, but the relatively low figure may be a cause for concern going forward. The city of Portland has been a member of the American Hockey League for 35 years, and the eroding of this dedicated fan base, which has persevered through affiliations with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston (during the days of the Mariners), Washington, Anaheim, Buffalo, and now Arizona, would be most concerning.
Cross Insurance Arena is fairly easy to get to in downtown Portland. Visitors to the area will take Interstate 295 from the Maine Turnpike (Interstate 95), and exit into the city via the Franklin Street exit (exit #7). Follow to the fifth light, and take a right onto Middle Street, and the Cross Insurance Arena will be ahead on your right.
Portland is served by Amtrak trains and several major airlines. While the train station and jetport are located a distance from the Cross Insurance Arena, several local Metro bus routes travel within a few blocks of the arena.
There is on-street parking available within a several block radius of the arena for early arriving fans. The Spring Street Garage is located adjacent to the arena, and charges $10 for parking. There are several other surface lots in the area charging between $5 and $10 to park. Portland is a very walkable city, so if the weather is cooperating, parking farther from the arena is a viable option.
The previous configuration of Cross Insurance Arena made getting around very difficult, both before the game and during intermissions. The lobby served as both the box office and part of the concourse, making for a very crowded area. Fans actually had to leave the arena to access the souvenir stand or to stretch their legs. The walkways on either side of the rink were similarly crowded with lines to concession stands and bathrooms. The renovations have attempted to address this congestion.
The renovations claimed some outdoor courtyard space on either end of the arena, expanding the lobby and separating the box office area from the concourse. Additional restrooms and concession stands were added to alleviate congestion. The concourses were widened up to four feet in some places, and bathrooms were expanded and reconfigured. While the congestion hasn't totally been resolved, it is easier to get around during intermission, and it is possible to get to the concession stands or restrooms and back to your seats before the action resumes.
Ticket prices for Portland Pirates games range from $21.25 for end zone seats to $31.25 for seats at center ice. These prices include a new $2 surcharge to help fund the recent renovations. Parking in the area tops out at $10, and food prices are very affordable for a venue in the northeast. These factors all combine to make Cross Insurance Arena a most affordable place to take in some hockey at the minor league's highest level.
Extra points are awarded for the long overdue renovations to bring Cross Insurance Arena up to modern standards.
A second extra point is awarded to the hockey fans of southern Maine for their dedication to their team and for their patience in waiting an entire season for the Pirates to return. The fan base in Portland takes a back seat to no others in their knowledge and passion for the game.
A final extra point is awarded to the wonderful city of Portland and the fantastic neighborhood surrounding the arena. It is no surprise that many travelers of the AHL circuit rank Portland as one of their favorite road cities to visit.
While initial reaction to the renovations at Cross Insurance Arena have been mixed, there is no denying that the Pirates have a better building now than the one they left for almost a year and a half before returning. In addition to improvements for the staff and players, fans should enjoy the changes. The concourse is wider, brighter, and easier to navigate. New concession stands and restrooms have further relieved the congestion that was legendary here. New touches, such as the open luxury boxes in the corner of the arena and the new entry plaza, have helped transform what was a tired, dark venue into more comfortable place to take in a game. Hopefully Portland hockey fans will forget any grudges they may be holding on to and welcome back the Pirates with open arms.
Located just outside of Portland’s Old Port District, just blocks from Casco Bay, is the Cumberland County Civic Center, former home to the Maine Mariners (1977-1992) and current home to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League (1993-present).
Built in 1977, this 6,733 seat arena has been the heart of Portland’s sports and entertainment for over 40 years. Expanding its seating to over 9,000 for concerts, the Civic Center has held many of Portland’s greatest and most memorable concerts with artists such as ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boston, and Carrie Underwood.
The Civic Center has been home to many major events, including the AHL All Star Game in both 2003 and 2010. At the conclusion of the high school winter sport seasons, it is also home to the MPA Maine High School Basketball Tournament. Most notably, the Civic Center was home to Calder Cup Championships for both the Maine Mariners and the Portland Pirates.
The Portland Pirates, during their current AHL tenure, have been affiliates of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, and currently the Phoenix Coyotes. This has allowed many future stars to come through Portland and play on Civic Center ice. With these affiliations, hockey stars such as Byron Dafoe, Kevin Kaminski, Kent Hulst, Martin Brochu, Nathan Gerbe, and Jim Carey have, at one point, called the Civic Center and the City of Portland home.
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