Whalers clear hurdle in move to Raleigh
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Hartford Whalers on Wednesday cleared a major hurdle in their move to North Carolina when a state agency agreed to let the NHL team pay a $22.7 million penalty to leave Connecticut a year early.
Eight members of the Connecticut Development Authority voted in favor of the exit agreement and one abstained. The Whalers must pay $5 million by July 1 and the rest in annual installments by 2012.
Authority president Arthur H. Diedrick said the group weighed whether it would be worth giving up the money just to have the team stick around for what would amount to a ``lame-duck season.″
Under its original contract with the state, the team had been obligated to stay until at least the end of the 1997-98 season, at which time it would only have to pay $5 million if it chose to cross Connecticut’s border.
In discussions with the over the past few weeks, team owner Peter Karmanos told the CDA that if the exit fee was raised, he would stay for the fourth and final year of the contract, then pay the lesser exit fee to leave.
The CDA concluded it would be more frugal to make him pay the $22.7 million and move on, rather than forfeit the $17 million difference.
``We want to put this behind us,″ he said.
Thomas Mullaney Jr., who abstained, said he didn’t like the deal but felt that ``Hartford is better off without Karmanos.″
The vote ended a political feud over the amount of the exit agreement, a controversy that had threatened to stall plans by the NHL franchise to head South by next season.
Under a deal struck Tuesday, the team will rename itself the Carolina Hurricanes, and play in Greensboro, N.C., for two years until a $120 million arena built in its final destination in Raleigh.
The relocation still awaits the final approval of a three-quarters vote of the league’s board of governors. Karmanos said a vote is set for June 25.
There also is the matter of possible legal action, as the city of Hartford has not ruled out suing the team to force it to pay more for leaving a year before its lease expires at the Civic Center.
Hartford Mayor Michael Peters and House Speaker Tom Ritter have protested the exit penalty negotiated by Gov. John G. Rowland weeks ago, saying the ownership should be punished more for leaving a year earlier than they had promised under a sales agreement with the state.
Earlier Wednesday, Ritter said he was disappointed that Rowland had moved up the CDA vote, and in effect took away any negotiating power he might have had to at least boost the pricetag on the early departure.
But he also said he now wanted to put the dispute behind him, and added he would encourage the mayor to do the same.
The Raleigh arena is scheduled to be ready by the 1999-2000 season. While it is being built, the team would play temporarily in the 21,500-seat Greensboro Coliseum, about an hour’s drive from Raleigh.
The terms of the memo signed Tuesday by Karmanos and the Centennial Authority, which oversees Raleigh’s new arena, call for a 20-year lease, with two five-year options. The team would also pay $3 million in rent minus about $250,000 a year in game-day operating costs for the first three years.
The actual lease should be ready by July 1, officials said.