Local News

Raleigh Feels Good About NHL Pitch

Posted January 14, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The Triangle's professional hockey hopes now rests with the National Hockey League's top brass.

Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates led a group of prospective owners from the Triangle area Tuesday to make their pitch here to Bettman and the National Hockey League's nine-member executive committee. The group was the last presentation heard from nine cities over two days.

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

Sabates and the Raleigh-Durham group of prospective owners met with Bettman and the committee for almost an hour. They played a fast-paced video and displayed the Triangle's favorable demographic numbers. The Raleigh-Durham group also answered questions about a new arena for the club slated in Raleigh and terms to lease it.

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

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

Sabates, North Carolina State University officials and others are counting on a new $132 million arena that would house the NHL franchise's games, Wolfpack basketball and other public events. An N.C. State panel that wants to build the arena has commitments of $72 million from the university, state and local taxes. More money may 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 and Wake County commissioners would approve final funding of the arena in the next 20 to 40 days.

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

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

The proposed home for a Raleigh NHL franchise is still just a hole in the ground and an architects' rendering, but many other cities in the running 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 groups seeking 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 to be frontrunners at this point.

While Bettman has made no commitments, the speculation is that the 26-team league plans to add two teams in 1998 and two more in 2000 with each team carrying a purchase price of between $75 million and $80 million.

``When we announce the process has come to an end, you will know everything you need to know,'' said Bettman, who announced that the executive committee and league governors will meet next month to digest what it heard Monday and Tuesday from 11 groups representing the 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, including price and stocking the teams, and you'll know what the alignment is. When we do it, it will be one package so there are no open issues.''

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

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

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