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Buzzer looms for new lease

With the American Hockey League board of governors’ annual meetings beginning Monday, the pressure is on Rochester city officials to reach a lease agreement for the Rochester Americans hockey team and the Rochester Knighthawks indoor lacrosse team to continue playing at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.
Negotiations continued this week to renew the lease, which expires June 30. The sale of the Amerks and Knighthawks to Canadian businessman Curt Styres is contingent on a lease agreement.
Stephen Donner, the beleaguered former majority owner of both franchises, remains with the teams as a 40 percent owner.
“We continue to work with the new owners to see if we can’t come up with a lease,” city corporation counsel Thomas Richards said this week. “That’s insufficient to keep the leagues at bay, because they wanted something done by the middle of this month. So we’ll see. I hope there’s something to say shortly, one way or the other.”
Richards and Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy both previously said they would not negotiate with the Amerks or Knighthawks-or with the Rochester Rhinos and the operator of Paetec Park-with Donner in a decision-making capacity.
In March, Donner and majority owner Frank DuRoss sold their stake in the Rhinos and Paetec Park to Utica-area banker Robert Clark. Donner, however, still has a minority share of the Amerks and Knighthawks.
“We’ve taken the position that he can’t be involved in the operation or management of it, and that whatever ownership he has would have to be a minority ownership so there’s no control by him,” Richards said. “That’s still our position.”
The league’s board of governors last month approved the sale to Styres’ Arrow Express Sports business entity.
“The league has done its homework, the due diligence involved with any transfer of ownership for any of our franchises,” said AHL vice president of communications Jason Chaimovitch this week. “(Styres) and his group were unanimously approved by the board to take over ownership of the franchise.”
AHL president and CEO David Andrews declined to comment on the Amerks’ new ownership or on lease arrangements.
“David told me earlier that things are moving well but he’s not at a point yet where he can make any public comments,” Chaimovitch said.
The AHL board of governors begins its annual meetings Monday.
“That’s the jumping-off point for the coming season,” Chaimovitch said. “It’s really at that point where we need to start with the schedule process and division alignment. That would be the best guess as to where a middle-of-the-month deadline might have come from.”
Styres, a resident of Ohsweken, Ontario, is spending some $6.5 million to buy out Amerks partners Walter Turek, who owned 40 percent of the franchise, and Randall Latona, who owned 20 percent.
Styres is spending $5.6 million to buy 60 percent of the Knighthawks, the National Lacrosse League said. It is the highest acquisition price in league history, officials said.
The Knighthawks’ sale also is contingent on a lease agreement, NLL officials said.
“I think we’re going to have something to say before too long,” Richards said. “We have to.”
Richards has met with Styres and his ownership group; Duffy has not, Richards said.
“I take them at their word, that they’re interested in this and they want it to be a success,” Richards said. “They have been willing so far to put significant funds into this to clean up some of the past problems. So we’re working with them.”
Styres this week declined to talk specifically about his investment or lease negotiations.
“I have put an application in, and that’s pretty well where we stand,” he said of the lease. “I’m just hoping (for an agreement) really soon-the sooner the better.”
The lease with the Amerks and Knighthawks originally was to expire in June 2007 but was extended for one year to coincide with the lease with Philadelphia-based arena operator SMG.
The contract with SMG also expires at the end of June.
“We’re in discussions about extending the lease for them as well,” Richards said. “You have to get these two things to mesh because we’re only talking about one bucket of money here. You can’t really make one agreement without the other.”
[email protected] / 585-546-8303

06/20/2008 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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