The Baltimore Hockey Advocates have sweetened their rent proposal to put an East Coast Hockey League team in the Arena next season.
Whether it is enough to break the impasse in negotiations with Centre Management was uncertain, but Ed Anderson, the primary investor in a would-be ECHL team, said yesterday that those negotiations would be open-ended.
"I'm never going to close the door," said Anderson, who owns the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League. "If we can still do it in a time frame that works for the next ECHL season, great. If not, we'll keep working on one for the future.
"More importantly, if it's going to happen, we're going to need a little more groundswell of support than [just] the hockey fans in Baltimore. The chamber of commerce and city hall have to get involved. . . . That message is not getting to the Capital Centre."
The desired message of political support did reach Landover yesterday, though. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke faxed a letter to Gary Handleman, vice president for facilities of Centre Management, reinforcing his support for the hockey effort. At the same time, Schmoke said that any lease arrangement must make economic sense for the city.
"As you may know, I do like hockey and was pleased to learn that we have an opportunity to retain the sport here in Baltimore," Schmoke's letter said. "Having hockey games within the choice of sporting events available to attend enhances Baltimore's livability, as well as supporting local businesses that benefit.
"By the same measure, it is important that any use of the Baltimore Arena help achieve our overall economic goals. I appreciate Centre Management's diligence in negotiating a viable business resolution from which the Arena will benefit and remain a financially stable building."
Handleman said he had received the letter, along with the new proposal from John Haas, a local businessman and longtime member of the advocates.
"They've definitely increased the offer," Handleman said. "We've moved closer. What that means at this point, I'm not sure. We're going to sleep on it and get back tomorrow."
Haas said the new offer represents a substantial increase in rent for the Arena, but added, "There are still a couple of stumbling blocks" to closing the deal.
Haas has been leading the effort to bring an ECHL team here next season since Tom Ebright agreed last month to move the AHL Skipjacks to Portland, Maine. Ebright's organization had taken an estimated 300 deposits for season tickets for an ECHL team. That money will be refunded if there is no team, said Al Rakvin, Skipjacks vice president.
"We're holding deposits on season tickets until we know definitely if there is going to be a team," Rakvin said. "If there is a team, we will transfer all records and accounts to the new group."
The Skipjacks will close their office here at the end of the month.
Starting tomorrow, the ECHL governors meet in the Bahamas. Among the topics to be discussed is expansion. Bud Gingher, who owns the Dayton Bombers and is chairman of the league's board of governors, said there is no time limit on a Baltimore application if interests here "are willing to accept and pay for a special meeting to approve the application."
Anderson said he thinks there is enough time to get a lease agreement and file the application before ECHL schedules are drawn up.
"If we could conclude business this week and get the application in before next week, we could get a team in next year," he said.