NHL announcement in next few days 'realistic': Katz
|Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz discusses the operating budget at the Winnipeg City Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba Monday, March 7, 2011. (MARCEL CRETAIN/QMI Agency)
One mayor is putting on a brave face and talking about a future without the NHL, while the other can’t wait for the official celebration to begin.
Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz is in the latter camp and remains confident word of the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg will happen in the coming days.
“I’m extremely optimistic that there will be an announcement made very shortly and the next few days is very realistic,” Katz told Sun Media on Tuesday. “The sooner the better, from my point of view. It will be nice when True North and the NHL can make an official announcement. They’re the only one’s that can do that. Once it’s done officially we can really celebrate bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg.”
As someone with a business background, Katz urged those who were getting nervous about the timing of the transaction to remain calm.
“They’re doing the legalese, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, which you must do,” said Katz. “This process has been wonderful compared to the two years of insanity surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes. It’s actually moved quite quickly.”
The reported purchase price is $170 million, with around $60 million going towards a relocation fee.
After the deal is complete, the NHL board of governors must give official approval and that’s expected to come at a meeting in New York on June 21.
As for what the return of the NHL would mean for the city, Katz didn’t hold back.
“I’m not convinced you can put it into words, but from my point of view the value of that is priceless,” said Katz. “We know the positive economic impact it will have in our city. The hospitality industry, what it’s going to mean for the airport and people coming into town. The real estate industry, with people buying homes. On and on and on. All of that stuff is wonderful. With 15,000 fans per game, that’s 600,000 or 700,000 people coming downtown on a regular basis.
“What you can’t do is measure the pride and the feeling that will be restored in Winnipeggers and Manitobans of having the NHL back after someone reached into your ribs and pulled your heart out while you were still breathing. That’s what happened 15 years ago.”
True North spokesman Scott Brown addressed the various reports of whether a press conference might actually be scheduled for Wednesday.
“Despite rumors to the contrary, no potential press conference has been scheduled and one will not be scheduled until a deal is truly done, if one does indeed get done,” Brown said in an e-mail. “Such has not happened yet, so the scheduling of a press conference is not necessary.”
Brown also said the name of a prospective NHL team in Winnipeg has not been finalized.
Meanwhile, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed seemed to be showing signs of surrender when talking to reporters on Tuesday.
Reed said the loss of the Thrashers would hurt the community, but the city will move on.
“I think any time we lose a major sports franchise it is tough,” Reed was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s going to hurt the city, but we are going to withstand it just fine. We will get through it. We have a lot of positive things going on in the sports franchise space that I think we will be announcing pretty soon that will offset it a bit.”
Reed also said he has tried to help the team find potential new ownership that was willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta.
However, Reed previously stated there would be no public money used in such an effort, not like in Glendale, Ariz., where local government was quick to jump in to bailout the Phoenix Coyotes.
“The Thrashers, as you know, are in an extraordinary position because of the amount of losses that are associated with the team,” Reed said. “So we have not yet seen a path where we can reverse those losses fast enough. If you talk to the Atlanta Spirit ownership, they will share the same thing. It’s not a lack of the city being willing to step up and do something about it. It is a partner with deep enough pockets to be willing to sustain pretty significant losses. We have not yet had any of the individuals in our community who are prepared to take that on. But it has not been for lack of trying, believe you me.”