2003 - 2004
The Greater Greensboro Observer
June 8, 2004
Generals Era About To End
General's Future Faces Sudden-Death Overtime
By Jim McNally
It's not common in a Southern city that the most talked-about item in a budget debate is what to do about an ice hockey team. So maybe these are not common times.
Greensboro City Manager Ed Kitchen
Because following an hour-and-a-half brief by Greensboro City Manager Ed Kitchen on the ways the city expects to spend some $350 million in the upcoming fiscal year, talk among members of the City Council focused on whether to keep the Greensboro Generals on the city's payroll.
Kitchen's recommendation was that the city pull the ECHL team from its public funding, despite the Swiss-cheese effect that action may have on the coliseum's scheduling.
Kitchen agreed that the Generals were a great "anchor" to have at the coliseum but added that the team needed private ownership to be a viable tenant. Last year, the city agreed to a bailout action that bought the team a year, which, according the Kitchen, was long enough.
"That was never meant to be a permanent arrangement," he said. "Our hope was to keep the team (afloat) until private investors could step forward."
But no takers have emerged. Kitchen, citing the fact that the ECHL is holding its business meeting later this month, recommended that the council make a decision on what to do about the Generals this week, hold a public meeting on the matter at the next scheduled meeting (June 15) and vote on pulling the plug at that meeting.
Most council members who spoke on the matter following Kitchen's briefing tended to agree with the city manager.
Councilmember Don Vaughan read a letter he received from hockey man Bill Coffey. Coffey was one of the founding members of the East Coast Hockey League and was responsible for bringing hockey back to Greensboro in the late 1980s when he established the Monarchs.
Coffey is now the president of the Southern Hockey League and, in the letter Vaughan read, said he wanted Greensboro to have a team in that league.
"If for any reason the city cannot keep a team in the ECHL (which no longer is short for East Coast Hockey League. When the league merged with the West Coast Hockey League prior to the recently completed season, it changed its name so that it is now known only by the letters ECHL), we would love to have them in the Southern League," Coffey's letter said in part.
If such a move is made, Greensboro will have been represented in its fourth different league in less than a decade, and field its fifth different team.
Others council members, including Tom Phillips, were more specific. "The decision we made last year (to save the team) was the best of two bad choices," Phillips said. "The public has been clear that they don't want us to be in the hockey business." Almost all of his colleagues on the council then shook their heads in agreement.
But the matter is not that simple. Kitchen was cautious, however, about the effect that the opening of 36 dates at the coliseum may have on steadiness of the facility and the impact that not having a steady tenant may have on corporate sponsorship.
But Phillips countered that logic.
"We don't know what will happen or what could come in (other concerts, etc.) without a hockey team unless there is no hockey team," he said.
A decent on-ice product was not enough to keep fans from staying away in droves.Only Mayor Keith Holiday was circumspect about keeping the team. He said that only a careful examination of the bottom line and legitimate forecasts of what color the ink would be, both with and without the team, would be prudent.
"I just wish we had more time to study the numbers," he said.
But if time has run out, and the death knell has been rung for the Generals, it does not echo without irony. The end will come just as the team was hitting its stride. After setting league records for futility in its first four seasons, the last two have been inspiring. Two years ago, the Generals made it into the second round of the championship playoffs and this past season, it set a league record for a team with the best records to not make it to the postseason.
Another irony is that, according to team insiders, the attraction of private ownership is being dulled by a breach of contract lawsuit that was won by the team's former coach, Jeff Brubaker.
Brubaker, whose coaching style included a brutish form of play, offset by a teddy-bearish personality, was once considered the savior of local hockey. He took the ECHL Monarchs to the league championship but was unable to do the same with the Generals. Now, however, his successful legal finagling may have helped spell the end of Gate City hockey.
Those interested in weighing in on the Generals, or other aspects of the city budget, may do so at the public hearing Tuesday, June 15 at 6 p.m. at the city council meeting.