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 following a vote requiring the team to pay a penalty of $22.7 million.
Eight members of the Connecticut Development Authority voted in favor of the early exit penalty and one abstained. The Whalers must pay $5 million by July 1 and the rest in annual installments by 2012.
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 approval of a three-quarters vote of the league’s board of governors. Team owner Peter Karmanos said a vote is set for June 25.
There also is the matter of possible legal action. 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 amount of the exit penalty negotiated by Gov. John Rowland weeks ago. They contend the owners should be punished more for leaving a year earlier than they had promised under an 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 price tag 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.