Former Pirate’s hockey arena in Saco being renovated

10 February 2017

While the ice continues to stay frozen outside, the ice at the Maine Sports Arena in Saco has melted in anticipation of a new chapter. The arena is under construction, with an opening slated for early March, and it is looking to become considerably inclusive.

The former practice space for Portland’s former hockey team, the Portland Pirates, located at 15 Lund Road in Saco, is being remodeled thanks to Maine Juniors Volleyball, a nonprofit that competes throughout the East Coast with 30 different teams. During a 16-year period the organization has grown from 20 players to 315.

“It’s been absolutely blooming,” said Kris Dorer, former Maine Juniors Volleyball volunteer and current director for the sports arena, who said she foresees growth to continue thanks to upcoming changes. Dorer has filled multiple roles for Maine Juniors Volleyball, including strategic planning, various administrative roles, and as a member of the Board of Directors for three years.

The Pirates left Maine in spring 2016 after majority owner Ron Cain sold the franchise to a group that sought to move the Pirates out of state. Attendance had been flat-lining in their last two seasons, finishing last in the 30-team American Hockey League in their 2014-2015 season, and second to last in the subsequent season.

The 26,000-square-foot facility will boast five volleyball courts, three basketball courts, locker rooms, stadium seating and multiple rooms that can be used as offices, lounges or party rooms. It will additionally be able to accommodate a plurality of other sporting and recreational activities. But a “sports only” plan need not apply; the arena will also be open to corporate rentals, concerts and trade shows. The arena will be able to host about 3,200 people, and none of the tenants of the arena, including the swimming center, will be affected by the change.

Spearheading the arena’s plans and layout are John Razsa, Maine Juniors founder and executive director, DeAngelo Alston, director of TGK Athletics, Chuck Fleck, project manager, and Dorer.

“Last spring, when the Pirates moved out of this facility, (Maine Juniors Volleyball) got a phone call and we immediately came in and started working with the owners on the process of making this happen,” Dorer said.

She said she started communicating with TGK to maximize the offerings to the community for youth volleyball and basketball.

“We’re on the same page as far as our ethics on how to run our organizations and what we expect of our players, so it’s really a great match.”

TGK, an acronym for “The Grind Knows,” is an organization based out of Saco with a principal mission to “foster the academic, athletic and social development of student athletes,” according to its website.

Dorer said the team is talking with other types of sports clubs to come in, such as pickle ball, indoor disc golf and yoga. She said the arena has become part of Maine’s Convention & Visitors Bureau, which works to bring large groups, meetings and trade shows to Maine, and is excited to have a new facility of this size, capability and capacity. This in turn improves the economy, Dorer said, and gives children a place to play sports and provides a space for tournaments.

“There are so many benefits to having a home base,” Dorer said. “Number one is we don’t have to try to book all these different gyms and negotiate rates, (not to mention) the time it takes the volunteers to coordinate with coaches schedules … It’s just been pretty crazy and it’s quite a bit of work.”

“That’s the headache,” Alston said.

The arena will be available for use for the public in terms of attending events, but it will also enable the public to rent the facility for events. Chiefly, however, it’ll be used for sports, Dorer added.

Dorer said costs for space rental is wide-ranging because it depends on what amount of space will be used and how often it’s rented. Space can be sectioned off for rentals and the lounge can be rented.

So far, concrete has been laid on the floor and work is being done to ensure heat and air conditioning are functioning optimally. The court itself is on pallets and plans are in motion to lay it out this month. The basketball nets are being ordered and the volleyball equipment is almost ready to be placed.

Dorer said renovation costs remain uncertain, since not everything has been finalized and there are various negotiations underway. She said Juniors Volleyball has a “really solid and talented base of volunteers and constituents” who want to roll up their sleeves for the arena, which will alleviate some costs. Grants and sponsorships are being sought, and there are naming opportunities for different parts of the facility for regional companies to capitalize off of. Additionally, there are a number of investors who will assist with costs, as well as projections from other sources of income from renting out space.

Dorer said one of the most exciting parts about the upcoming arena is “the ability to offer more programs … I mean we can just sit here and say ‘Let’s get a boy’s program started.’ And we can just do it because it’s our space.”