City offers to delay Arena demolitionWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The City of Toledo will delay demolition of the Toledo Sports Arena if it means another season of professional hockey without interruption.
According to a March 22 news release, the city “remains open to any discussion that will assist retaining Toledo Storm hockey in our community.” The statement followed news first reported by Toledo Free Press March 21 that the Toledo Mud Hens organization was negotiating to purchase the ECHL Toledo Storm franchise.
The city news release said the Storm’s ownership was considering the city’s offer to delay razing the Toledo Sports Arena in exchange for another season of Storm hockey, but no final decisions have been made.
Members of the Toledo Storm’s front office confirmed March 21 the Triple-A baseball organization is negotiating with owner Tim Gladieux to purchase the minor league hockey franchise. Team president Barry Soskin and vice president and general manager Pat Pylypuik gave conflicting statements as to whether there would be professional hockey in Toledo next season.
“[The Mud Hens] are probably not going to operate the hockey team for the next couple of years,” Pylypuik said.
Soskin, who founded the Storm in 1990, said he’s unsure if this would be the team’s last season in the Toledo Sports Arena.
“I hope not,” he said.
Joe Napoli, vice president and general manager of the Mud Hens, was unavailable for comment March 22. In a statement issued through his executive assistant, Tracy Evans, Napoli said the Mud Hens organization is actively seeking a hockey franchise, but would not address specific negotiations. More news on the matter should come in two to four weeks, Evans said.
Gladieux did not return calls seeking comment at press time. A representative of the ECHL declined to comment on the possible sale.
As part of the deal, the Mud Hens would own the rights to the ECHL’s membership for the Toledo market, Pylypuik said. But, he said, the organization would drop the Storm name and rename the team when it begins play in the new proposed Downtown sports arena.
“From my understanding, they don’t want anything to do with the past history of hockey in Toledo,” Pylypuik said. “They want to do it their way.”
Soskin confirmed Pylypuik’s statements, but said he’s unsure this would be the Storm franchise’s final season after 16 years of existence.
“There’s nothing signed,” Soskin said. “I just know Gladieux is negotiating with [the Mud Hens organization].”
Soskin has an option to purchase the club from Gladieux as part of a management agreement he signed in September 2005. As part of that deal, Soskin said he was to begin making payments at the start of the fourth season of the agreement with all payments made by the end of the fifth season. The Storm is nearing the end of the second full season under the arrangement.
Soskin won’t attempt to exercise his option because he wouldn’t have a building to house the team when the Downtown arena opens in fall 2009 as planned. He said Lucas County leaders have made it clear they want the Mud Hens organization to run any team that plays in the new facility.
“I understand their model works,” Soskin said of the Mud Hens. “I just don’t see why it can’t work with me in the new building.”
Lucas County Administrator Michael Beazley said it is up to the city when the Toledo Sports Arena is demolished to make way for its Marina District waterfront development project. He did confirm the county does want the Mud Hens organization to operate teams at the new arena as the project moves forward.
Beazley said the Mud Hens have created a positive fan experience in Downtown Toledo with Fifth Third Field. He said he hopes that synergy would carry over to the new arena.
“There’s not going to be any positive fan experiences in that place,” Beazley said of the Toledo Sports Arena.
Pylypuik said he suspects Gladieux will sell the team at a low price in exchange for a contract that would make his catering company the concessions vendor at the new arena. He did not mention a specific dollar amount, only saying, “It’s probably nothing.”
Because Soskin returned the team close to profitability, Pylypuik said he feels Lucas County politicians are driving Soskin out of Toledo.
“They have never contacted Barry Soskin once,” Pylypuik said.
Pylypuik said he and Soskin may work to start up another hockey team in Toledo that would compete at a different level than the team that will play at the new sports arena.
“If you think we’re going to roll over and die, we’re not,” he said.