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Raleigh Feels Good About NHL Pitch

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NEW YORK — The Triangle's professional hockey hopesnow rests with the National Hockey League's top brass.

Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates led a group of prospectiveowners from the Triangle area Tuesday to make their pitch here toBettman and the National Hockey League's nine-member executivecommittee. The group was the last presentation heard from ninecities over two days.

Also appearing Tuesday were groups from Hampton Roads, Va.;Oklahoma City; Nashville, Tenn. and Atlanta. On Monday, threedelegations from Houston and others from Hamilton, Ontario; St.Paul, Minn.; and Columbus, Ohio, made pitches.

Sabates and the Raleigh-Durham group of prospective owners metwith Bettman and the committee for almost an hour. They played afast-paced video and displayed the Triangle's favorable demographicnumbers. The Raleigh-Durham group also answered questions about anew arena for the club slated in Raleigh and terms to lease it.

``Most of the questions were about the arena, none about themarket,'' Sabates said after the meeting.

``The building will be built,'' he said. ``The only thingreallyleft hanging is the size.''

Sabates, North Carolina State University officials and othersare counting on a new $132 million arena that would house the NHLfranchise's games, Wolfpack basketball and other public events. AnN.C. State panel that wants to build the arena has commitments of$72 million from the university, state and local taxes. More moneymay come from a local hotel tax.

The proposed ownership group did present a letter from the N.C.State panel saying it was confident the Raleigh City council andWake County commissioners would approve final funding of the arenain the next 20 to 40 days.

Also attending the Raleigh-Durham presentation were RaleighMayor Tom Fetzer, who wants to scale back the size and cost of theproposed arena, and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker.

They hopeto lure one of four proposed expansion teams to the Triangle, and they saythey have confidence chances are good despite recent controversy over thesize of a proposed arena.

The proposed home for a Raleigh NHL franchise is still just a hole inthe ground and an architects' rendering, but many other cities in therunning for a team haven't even gotten that far.

Scheer says Raleigh is in a good position to win this one.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reminded groupsseeking expansion teams - including one from Raleigh-Durham, N.C. -that the league has made no promises and is in no hurry to expand.

``If we do it, we're going to do it in an orderly fashion,''Bettman said. ``We're trying to do this in a very careful,considered way. We want to make sure there are no missteps.''

Groups from Atlanta and Houston are believed tobe frontrunners at this point.

While Bettman has made no commitments, the speculation is thatthe 26-team league plans to add two teams in 1998 and two more in2000 with each team carrying a purchase price of between $75million and $80 million.

``When we announce the process has come to an end, you willknoweverything you need to know,'' said Bettman, who announced that theexecutive committee and league governors will meet next month todigest what it heard Monday and Tuesday from 11 groups representingthe nine cities.

``You will know what cities, you will know who the owners are,you will know what the timetable is, what the terms are, includingprice and stocking the teams, and you'll know what the alignmentis. When we do it, it will be one package so there are no openissues.''

Bettman said loose ends must be tied up before a franchise isgranted, adding that he doesn't want a repeat of the 1990 Ottawadebacle, when the team was forced to play in an ill-equipped arenalonger than expected.

``You will get the appropriate guarantees,'' he said. ``That'swhat lawyers get paid lots of money to do.''

The committee is expected to report to the full board ofgovernors this weekend at San Jose, Calif., the site of Saturday'sAll-Star game.