Deadline near for Baltimore's hockey hopes HOCKEY

April 28, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Negotiations to replace the departing Skipjacks have reached an impasse, placing the future of professional hockey in Baltimore in jeopardy once again.

Whether Baltimore retains hockey next season could come down to three issues: Does Centre Management want hockey in the Baltimore Arena? Will Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke use his political muscle to assist in the effort? And will the Washington Capitals give their blessing to a new team in the area?

Ed Anderson, would-be owner of an East Coast Hockey League team, and Gary Handleman, vice president for facilities at Centre Management, have been unable to reach a lease agreement for the Baltimore Arena in negotiations that began March 30.

Now, time is running out on Anderson and the Baltimore Hockey Advocates, a group of local businessmen trying to keep hockey here.

The ECHL governors convene their annual meeting next Wednesday in the Bahamas, but the league has yet to receive an application from Anderson, who first must negotiate a lease at the Arena, which is operated by Centre Management.

Yesterday, in a bid to close the deal, Anderson said he would accept the same terms and conditions the American Hockey League Skipjacks had this season.

"I told Gary we have until May 3 [Monday] to complete the process," said Anderson, who already owns the Providence Bruins in the AHL. "That's why, when we're miles apart, I felt the easier solution was to accept what they had in place. I will empower John Haas [a member of the advocates] to break the logjam."

Haas, a past president of the Skipjacks, has been attempting to enlist the help of Schmoke, but Schmoke's press secretary said the mayor would not participate in negotiations.

"The mayor told them he did not want to get involved between managers and tenants," Clint Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary, said. "He assigned a person from his office to try and work out any disagreements." That person is Mari Ross, events coordinator and assistant to Schmoke. Ross is on vacation, Coleman said.

The snag in negotiations centers on rent the team would pay at the Arena. Handleman said Centre Management showed a profit -- "less than $20,000" -- while operating hockey at the Arena, but he said he might be able to produce more revenue with other events.

"Hockey was marginally successful," Handleman said. "I want to be able to earn an amount of money that will have the deal make sense for us. If we didn't have those [hockey] events and we make the same amount of money by not having the events, then it's to our advantage not to have them."

Haas said: "It'll be a black eye to the city to close the Arena to hockey because of the greed of Centre Management people. If it was profitable this year, why not do it next year?"

Meanwhile, David Poile, general manager of the Washington Capitals, said he was not trying to block the return of hockey to the Arena. The Capitals' five-year affiliation in Baltimore with the Skipjacks ended last month when Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright decided to move the team to Portland, Maine, for next season. "David Poile does not have anything, pro or con, to do with whether a team goes in there," Poile said. He said he would like to put Baltimore in the Capitals' marketing plans, though.

"I'd certainly like to make Baltimore the Capitals' hockey territory," Poile said. "I have been very sensitive to our relationship to the Skipjacks. We haven't been overly aggressive with marketing in Baltimore. I would like to get more hockey fans to the Capital Centre. But I am sensitive to the situation."

Baltimore almost lost professional hockey in 1987, when Ebright bought the franchise. Two teams folded here in recent years -- the Blazers of the World Hockey Association in 1975 and the Clippers of the Southern League in 1978.

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