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Whalers to Make Home Port in Raleigh, Change...

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An aerial view of the site near Carter-Finley Stadium where the new arena will be built
RALEIGH — Professional hockey is coming to NorthCarolina either this season or nextseason, playing in Greensboro before moving permanently to Raleigh.

The Centennial Authority, in charge of raising money for and building anew $120 million arena, approved the outline of a proposed20-year lease agreement with the Hartford Whalers, likely to be renamedthe Carolina Hurricanes. The lease would givethe NHL team control over the arena's day-to-day operations.

The Centennial Authority took the action about an hourbefore Raleigh officials formally announced thatthe Whalers were relocating to Raleigh.

The lease agreement calls for the team to contribute $12million to the arena's cost. The arena would open in1999, with construction set to begin in about three weeks.

The CentennialAuthority approved the proposed lease 11-1after a closed-door meeting. Voting against the agreement was businessmanand NCSU supporter Wendell Murphy.Murphy said he felt the building should be controlled entirely by theCentennial Authority.

The agreement permits the Whalers to hire concessionaires, with theauthority's approval, and to control the arena's day-to-dayoperations.

However, North Carolina State University, which would share the venue withthe Whalers, would have priority in selecting playingdates at the arena under the proposed lease.

NCSU also would have the first crack at naming the arena under the lease,but the authority agreed to discuss naming rights in moredetail later.

Karmanos was expected to sign a memorandum of understanding regardingthe lease later today, but the lease itself -- expected to run over 100pages -- will be drafted between now and July 1.

At Tuesday's pressconference, Karmanos said the lowest priced seats to pro hockey games inthe Triangle would be "probably $20." Asked about the proposed team name,Karmanos said the decision was "easy."

"It was between the Hurricanesand Ice Dogs," he said. He added the team's jersey's would be"traditional."

"I'll guarantee you it won't be teal," Karmanos said,referring to the team colors of the Charlotte Hornets.

But before theWhalers bring their pucks and sticks down south, there are a couple ofhurdles to clear.

The Whalers must pay Connecticut $20 million to endtheir lease agreement a year earlier than scheduled. If the Whalers stayin Hartford another season, they would have to pay only $5 million toleave. State House Speaker Thomas Ritter has proposed boosting the earlyexit fee to $40 million.

``Play here next year or pay at least the $40million,'' said Ritter, a Hartford Democrat who is worried about the fateof the city when the hockey team departs. ``The Whalers have a contractwith us.''

If the Connecticut Development Authority wants to chargeKarmanos $40 million to leave, the Whalers likely will play one moreseason in Hartford before coming to North Carolina next season.

Gov. John G. Rowland has called a meeting of the Connecticut DevelopmentAuthority for 4 p.m. today in Rocky Hill, Conn.

Dean Pagani, thegovernor's spokesman, confirmed that. "The governor thinks this has goneon long enough," Pagani said. "There is no reason to think we can getmore than $20.5 million. This could have been done at the last scheduledmeeting in April. The governor has been holding back in deference to[House Speaker Thomas D.] Ritter."

Rowland, despite a call by Ritterto double the fee, has maintained in recent weeks that the agreement wouldbe ratified as negotiated.

Said Karmanos, "There's a long,checkered history of politics there. The governor and I agreed on a deal. I negotiated the deal with the person

Also, the Whalers are stillworking on a financial settlement with the minor league Carolina Monarchs,the current tenant at the Greensboro Coliseum. Greensboro will play hostto the Carolinas' new NHL team while the new Entertainment and SportsArena is completed in Raleigh.

General Manager Jim Rutherford said theWhalers have reached a deal with the Greensboro Coliseum to play there fortwo seasons while the new west Raleigh arena is built.

Rutherford,quoted byThe News & Observerof Raleigh, said of Karmanos: ``This is his announcement ... He has worked long and hard on thesenegotiations to make this happen.''

Karmanos, who purchased theWhalers in 1994, announced in late March he would leave Connecticut whennegotiations between government officials failed to reach an acceptabledeal on a new Hartford arena. The Whalers began play in 1972 in thenow-defunct World Hockey Association and joined the National Hockey Leaguein 1979.

The lease between the Whalers and the Centennial Authoritywould span the 20 years following the Raleigh arena's opening in 1999. Italso contains two five-year renewal options. The proposal calls for theWhalers to pay $3 million a year rent for the first three years and then 6percent of gross revenues in the years following, up to $55 million. TheWhalers would pay the city 3 percent of any revenues collected above $55million.

Whalers' general manager Rutherford says that he eventuallywants the entire region involved with Raleigh's new hockey team. The bigplans include the NHL team in Raleigh, possibly named the CarolinaHurricanes, the American Hockey League affiliate in Greensboro, and theEast Coast Hockey League affiliate in Fayetteville.From staff andwire reports

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