Ottawa's return delayed

Jeff Hunt vision for an Ottawa franchise return to the CFL will wait until the 2008 season, and he...

Jeff Hunt vision for an Ottawa franchise return to the CFL will wait until the 2008 season, and he has no problem with that. (Ottawa Sun File/Sean Kilpatrick)

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

There will be ardent CFL fans disappointed in the league's decision to make them wait at least one more summer for the pro game's return to Frank Clair Stadium.

Feeling their pain will be certain sportswriters, photographers, TV reporters, cameramen, radio talking heads, ushers, security guards, concessionaires and seagulls, too.

As one who hopes for the chance to operate the team, however, Jeff Hunt has always preferred a 2008 start-up. So when the CFL officially eliminated the possibility of returning to Ottawa in '07, Hunt was more than okay with the idea of having an extra year to pull everything together.

And to fans, he says the wait will be worth it.

TIMELINE

"We didn't want to tell the CFL a timeline to follow ... when you become partners with somebody, you don't go into it saying 'This is the way it has to be,' " said Hunt, the 67's owner who will also be caretaker of a football team in Ottawa should the Golden Gate Capital Corp., bid rightfully prevail in a process that resumes next week. "We were willing to entertain the idea of '07, but our group felt fairly strongly that '08 was the way to go.

"The CFL realizes there's a significant piece of work to be done here, on and off the field, and it realizes the stakes are as high or higher than they've ever been. Time is always an asset in this type of thing, and they want to give the new operator every chance to hit the ground running."

Golden Gate Capital's interest is a godsend, if only because of Hunt. Exactly the type of person the league has longed to have running an Ottawa franchise, he will put more than millions of dollars into the effort. He'll be staking a reputation as a very sharp businessman who can fill a building and win a championship.

Just wondering ... how many of those people has this city ever had?

Former Rough Rider Bill Palmer, who is fronting a group of American businessmen also in the bidding, has at least signed up a local "investor" to join the group.

Unlike Hunt, the man has thus far kept his identity out of the public domain. Safer that way, I suppose.

"What's important to me is that we have good, strong ownership in this city, and I think we've got the makings of it," said former Rough Riders president Jim Durrell, who is not Palmer's unnamed man. "There are a couple of very good bids ... and whoever is successful, we all want to galvanize behind in the end."

Local Heroes co-owner Mark Kosmos is also impressed with two of the three groups vying for a franchise (if you get the feeling Frank D'Angelo's bandwagon is light, you're not alone) and also denies he's the local hero to join the Palmer camp.

"I'm in the restaurant business, not the football business," said Kosmos, a former Rough Riders star and Renegades sponsor. "We'll work with the group, whichever one it is, to help bring football back."

Meanwhile, Hunt says an Ottawa team will be significantly stronger starting up in 22 months rather than 10 -- both as a business and a product.

"I guarantee we'd sell thousands more season tickets with the extra year," said Hunt, who figures he'd have some "explaining to do" if he couldn't sell out the first game and is confident the team would average 25,000 fans per game in 2008. "Time is going to help us in so many ways."

If Hunt is in charge, a GM would ideally be hired by early in the new year. But the extra time could give him another five months to find the right man, if he needs it.

The GM would then have plenty of time to put together the all-important "neg list" from which a team will largely be built, plus scout rosters in anticipation of a Canadian dispersal draft that will provide Ottawa with its foundation. It'll also provide more time to find a quarterback, a task that won't be easy.

THAT'S THE TICKET

Off the field, Hunt has visions of using the extra time to sell season tickets to 10% of the 30,000 businesses in Ottawa, an accomplishment that would make the franchise "solid for years."

He also has plans to build fans' enthusiasm during the countdown to July 2008, when Ottawa will be proud to open the doors at a refurbished Frank Clair Stadium.

"I've heard that argument," Hunt said when it is suggested that losing another year means losing the interest of fans who still have some fresh memories of the last Ottawa football venture. "But what is the freshness you'd want to preserve?

"I think the opposite is true. An extra year means a little more time to heal before starting over.

"Then it'd be the operator's job to build the excitement."


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