The threatened relocation of the Skipjacks might turn out to be more a matter of minutes than miles.
Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright ruled out one of his relocation options yesterday, while acknowledging he has had discussions about building a 6,000- to 7,000-seat arena outside the Beltway.
Ebright also said he expects to make a decision by April 1 on where the team will play next season.
The owner said he has talked to two groups who are "looking to build an arena outside the city." He declined to identify either group, however.
"I've encouraged them," Ebright said. "It would change the economic situation for us. We'd probably get more advertising, and it'd be more consumer-friendly."
In that scenario, the Skipjacks likely would continue to play at the Baltimore Arena until the new building were completed.
Meanwhile, Ebright said he no longer was looking at a possible move to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., because it has no facility, and a new one is two years from completion. That would force him to suspend operations for at least a year.
He said that Syracuse, N.Y., a former AHL city, has approached him about relocating. He said he has talked with a second city, another former AHL member, as well.
The Skipjacks play five home games in the next 11 days, and Ebright said he is hoping for some big crowds.
Might that sway his decision?
"I'm looking for some helpful signs," he said. "I haven't stuck by this thing this long to have it go up in smoke. . . . The next two to three weeks will tell the tale. The community has had a chance to look at this, and they're going to vote."
The Skipjacks have a pending agreement to serve as the top developmental team for the Washington Capitals again next season, but it remains unsigned.
"They want to know [his plans] as soon as possible," Ebright said. "What I want to do is wait as long as possible and see if I can salvage the situation. I don't want to be the Bob Irsay of hockey in Baltimore. I'm still struggling to see if there's a way to save this so that does not become my fate. But I'm dead serious about solving the problem."
Ebright estimates he has lost $2.5 million in six years of operating the Skipjacks in Baltimore. He has asked Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to arrange a luncheon with prominent businessmen to plead his case. No luncheon date has been set.
Clint Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary, said: "The mayor tried to make clear to the Skipjacks that they are important to the city and that he would like to keep them healthy."