AZCentral - Deal Could Come Within Month

Reposted from AZCentral (link)

By Lisa Halverstadt

'Here we are again.

For the third straight year, the Phoenix Coyotes skate into the Stanley Cup playoffs as Glendale and the National Hockey League struggle to sell the team, securing the team's future at the city-owned Arena.

This time the team did better than ever, winning the first Pacific Division title in franchise history.

Glendale City Manager Ed Beasley told The Republic there's reason for hope off the ice, too. Residents and fans may soon get the resolution they have long sought, he said.

His confidence on Tuesday comes as the search for a permanent owner has become increasingly tense. Glendale faces as much as a $30 million budget shortfall. The city's dire finances are in part because of its commitment to pay $25 million to the NHL to cover team and arena losses the past two years.

City Council members, who have varying levels of optimism about the team remaining in Glendale, have said a deal must come soon.

Beasley said he expects at least one deal to come forward for public review this month.

Beasley said he's spent at least the past week working closely with a group led by former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison, as well as another group he would not name.

"The good thing for us is we've got a few choices here," he said. "We're all working very diligently."

Beasley said all groups have expressed interest in purchasing the city-owned arena as part of a deal. There's been talk the Jamison group would also be interested in buying Westgate City Center, the restaurant and shopping complex that opened six years ago as part of the original arena deal.

Time is of the essence. The council is unlikely to commit another $25 million to the NHL. And city leaders need to know the parameters of a deal as they create next year's budget, under way now.

League officials also are antsy, saying they don't want the team to be without an owner for another year.

Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, has said the league remains committed to keeping the team in Glendale. That is despite several cities itching for an NHL franchise, including Quebec City, which recently approved financing for a new hockey arena.

Daly recently said the league's efforts are "solely and exclusively directed toward closing the sale of the franchise that will have long-term viability" in Glendale.

Council members say Glendale must wait on the NHL before it makes its next move.

"This is a deal between the NHL and the buyer and not us," Councilwoman Yvonne Knaack said. "Ours is an arena management agreement once there's a buyer."

Daly could not immediately be reached to comment on whether the league would approve a buyer or buyers this month.

Potential buyer Jamison emerged nearly a year ago. Also still interested is former Arizona lawmaker John Kaites, a close associate of Chicago sports magnate Jerry Reinsdorf, who has made overtures since the before the team was filed into bankruptcy in 2009.

The league has said at least two others have expressed interest, though their names have not been disclosed. Beasley this week confirmed at least one is negotiating with Glendale.

Everyone has a healthy dose of skepticism as deals have been close and crumbled multiple times over the past three years.

But Beasley said he's confident. "This four years has been interesting, but it's been an experience that's been through faith and we've always prevailed."

Coyotes president Mike Nealy also is optimistic.

He said the team sold more tickets this season than since 1999 when the team played in Phoenix.

In the past, the Coyotes offered thousands of free tickets -- nearly 146,000 in the 2001-02 season alone. Nealy, who took over team operations in 2010, promoted a new message: "Support us and buy the ticket."

Another encouraging sign: 82 percent of season-ticket holders renewed for next year, Nealy said.

"We're moving forward," Nealy said. "Yes, time is tight but things will move fast."

What they said

The Republic asked Glendale City Council members whether they think a deal will be reached to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale. The comments came before a closed-door session on Tuesday in which City Manager Ed Beasley was expected to provide an update.

Mayor Elaine Scruggs: "Nothing is impossible but I can only ask, why are we again in this situation where our backs are against the wall?"

Vice Mayor Steve Frate: "The team will be sold and I am optimistic that a deal can be reached. It will take all parties working together to make it come to fruition."

Councilwoman Norma Alvarez: "I think it's kind of late. I haven't been told anything about something (being) very close so I think the Coyotes will not be here this coming year."

Councilwoman Joyce Clark: "I remain highly optimistic that a deal will get done. I have always felt the NHL is committed to staying in Glendale. I truly believe that."

Councilwoman Yvonne Knaack: "I am still optimistic that a deal can be done and will be done. That would be in the best interest of the city of Glendale and its residents."

Councilman Phil Lieberman: "I am not (confident) because I believe the deal that will get done will call for massive amounts of money from the city. I will not be in favor of that."

Councilman Manny Martinez: "I'm the eternal optimist and I say yes. I know time is running short, but I still feel it will get done."'

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