Reinsdorf's Coyotes bid approved

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:48 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Over to you, Gary Bettman.

In a public meeting that turned into a hockey love-in from local citizens Tuesday night, Glendale City Council voted to give Chicago millionaire Jerry Reinsdorf and the Glendale Hockey Group its blessing to become the new owners of the Phoenix Coyotes.

At the same time, the council flatly rejected the bid by Ice Edge Holdings, the group of Canadian and American investors which had hoped to bring a handful of games to Saskatoon each season if it was successful.

It’s now up to the NHL commissioner and its board of governors to work out financial details with Reinsdorf group and relinquish the ownership role it has maintained throughout the 2009-10 season.

“The future of the franchise begins tonight,” said a jubilant John Kaites, who was representing Reinsdorf, owner of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and MLB’s Chicago White Sox. “It is our intention to stay here for the duration of the lease (for 25 years.)”

What a dramatic 24 hours for the franchise, which took its biggest step yet towards remaining in the region and will continue Wednesday night at Jobing.com Arena where the Coyotes begin their first playoff series since 2002, taking on the Detroit Red Wings.

The decision came as a blow to Ice Edge Holdings, which felt it came on late as a contender and believed it had a more reliable bid, in terms of keeping the team in the Phoenix suburb.

“We want to wish them the best,” one of the Ice Edge owners, Anthony LeBlanc said. “This is a wonderful hockey team and if I’ve learned anything, this is a wonderful hockey town. The Coyotes belong here for the long term.”

With agreement on the lease proposals from the city, the NHL can move forward in accepting the offer. City councillor Joyce Clark said the league told the city it wants an agreement in place by June 30.

Representative from both groups addressed the public meeting and stressed the need for council and the NHL to make a swift decision to help revive hockey in the Valley of the Sun.

“We have to take advantage of the lift of the playoffs (and start) maximizing revenue,” Kaites told council in his address.

“We are ready to move forward if we are able to come to a binding lease agreement.”

Afterwards, Kaites said the group has estimated the Coyotes will lose between $20 and $35 million U.S. this season, depending on how deep it gets in the playoffs.

“We believe it takes between three and five years to turn around (a business with those types of losses.)”

During the meeting, LeBlanc had made a not so subtle effort to distance his group’s proposal from the failed bid of Waterloo billionaire Jim Balsillie and his attempt to purchase the team and move it to Hamilton.

“We are avid hockey fans,” LeBlanc said in his address to council. “Half of the group is Canadian and I am sorry for a lot of people in the room.”

It is coming up on a year since Coyotes Hockey, the ownership headed by Jerry Moyes filed for federal bankruptcy protection. During the bankruptcy proceedings, the NHL purchased the assets of the Coyotes but did not

assume the lease with the city, which built the arena in 2003 at a cost of $180 million.

Glendale council set four criteria for the proposed owners - to keep the team in Glendale, to share in any new revenue streams, to “not adversely affect the current revenue stream” and to “not adversely affect the city’s debt structure.”

Tuesday’s public hearing further diminished the chances of the Coyotes moving back to Winnipeg. Billionaire David Thomson had been in contact with the league but once the two bids to buy the Coyotes and keep them in Glendale were presented, those talks fizzled.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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