PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — The Board of Directors of the Cross Insurance Arena will begin negotiations with two groups that want to bring an ECHL team to Portland.

One of the groups is Spectra, the Philadelphia-based company that currently manages the Cross Insurance Arena. The other is National Sports Services, out of Cleveland, Tennessee. The company provides franchise sales and acquisitions, franchise consulting and facility management. It's CEO is a consultant with the Gwinnett Gladiators, an ECHL team in suburban Atlanta. The team is affiliated with the Boston Bruins.

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Two other groups also submitted proposals: Federal Hockey League, based in Dewitt, New York, and Maine Sports and Enterprises, based in Florida.

The board decided to move forward and open negotiations with its top two selections.

“We have a blank winter period and we really need to fill it. We believe these two proposals each offer some very unique opportunities”, said CIA Board Chairman Mitchell Berkowitz.

What is unclear is whether either of the groups is proposing to bring an existing ECHL team from another state or if it would be a new expansion team.

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This is the first winter in 23 years that the AHL Portland Pirates have not played at the Portland arena. The team relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts, last year.

Filling winter dates is critical as the county works to pay off the arena’s recent renovations. If the building doesn’t generate enough revenues, taxpayers foot the bill.

“We believe that will improve, but to your point specifically, yes our revenues are not meeting our expenses at this time”, Berkowitz said.

Board members expect negotiations to last 6-8 weeks. They hope to have a deal signed before the ECHL annual meetings in June.