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Arena Coming, But is Hockey?

Posted Updated
Peter Karmanos
RALEIGH — Now that Raleigh City Council and Wake CountyCommissioners have agreed to fund and build a sports and entertainmentarena, will a hockey team come? Apparently, that decision now rests withthe owner, general manager and coach of the homeless Hartford Whalers.

Since team owner Peter Karmanos last visited Raleigh, with an eyetoward housing the team here, he has narrowed his prospects down to twocities: Raleigh and Columbus, Ohio. Also since that visit Raleigh has madea firm commitment to building the arena and, according to Karmanos, somepossible obstacles have developed in Ohio.

Columbus is still in the running for a National Hockey League expansionteam, a fact that could get in the way of a deal with Karmanos. Also, theonly possible interim site in Columbus for the team to play in is an emptyairplane hangar. Raleigh has offered a temporary arrangement with theGreensboro Coliseum.

But the final decision rests with Karmanos, and he says he's notrevealing much until the decision is made.

Karmanos met in private with Triangle leaders Tuesday afternoon.

Karmanos says he may decide betweenColumbus and Raleigh as a new home forhis team before Columbus residents vote on arena funding next month.

Columbus voters will decide May 6 on a three-year, half-cent sales-taxincrease that would generate $192 million of the $277 million needed tobuild a sports complex with the arena and a soccer stadium.

But Karmanos said the choice could come in advance of the vote.

``Hopefully, we'll be able to make the decision before that,'' he said ina news conference in Raleigh. ``The assumption is (the referendum) willpass. We'll try to make an objective evaluation and make the decision assoon as possible.''

Karmanos praised the people of the Raleigh-Durham area and the televisionmarket. But he also mentioned several links to Columbus. His wife'sfamily is from a Columbus suburb. Karmanos' Compuware Co. has an office inColumbus.

But the owner, who is leaving Hartford after failing to reach anacceptable deal on a new arena there, said he's not ``trying to pitRaleigh againstColumbus. We're just trying to see what deals the cities are offering andmake our decision.''

If the Whalers moved to North Carolina, the team could play at theGreensboro Coliseum until a new arena in Raleigh is completed. Karmanostold Columbus leaders he could transform an old McDonnell Douglas aircraftmanufacturing plant into a temporary arena.

On Monday, the Wake County commissioners approved allocating an extra $48million in hotel tax revenue to help pay for the $120 millionarena.

``We've got the (financing) deal, we've got the building, and (Karmanos)needs to make a decision in a hurry,'' said Harvey Schmitt, president ofthe Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. ``It all bodes well for us.''

Karmanos was slated to travel to Greensboro Wednesday to meet with cityofficials and again tour the coliseum there.

--From Staff and Wire Reports

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