2003 - 2004
June 2, 2004
Budget: No funds for Generals
With no provision for financial support in Greensboro's 2004-05 budget, the city's hockey franchise hangs by a thread.
BY LARRY KEECH
GREENSBORO - Greensboro's city manager recommended that the city withdraw its financial support for the Greensboro Generals in the fiscal 2004-05 budget he submitted to city council Tuesday, casting doubt on the ECHL hockey team's future.
In an extraordinary arrangement, Greensboro had served as the Generals' de facto owner during the 2003-04 season.
"The city agreed to provide a one-year bridge between private ownership groups," City Manager Ed Kitchen said. "It was never intended to be a permanent arrangement. Now that the year has ended, I'm recommending that private owners must bear the full financial risk."
Although the city council has the final say on the matter, Kitchen's recommendation figures to carry a great deal of weight with council members during this month's budget discussions.
Two local businessmen, Bill Black and Don Brady, leased the franchise from Art Donaldson, the Greensboro attorney who bought an ECHL expansion team in 1999 and operated it through the 2002-03 season. Black and Brady then secured a one-year agreement with the city to operate the team while they attempted to enlist additional investors.
Matt Brown, the Greensboro Coliseum's managing director, served as the team's chief operating officer during the 2003-04 season. Rick Adduono, the Generals' second-year coach, was on the city payroll.
Black and Brady have been unable to attract additional investors and are not willing to assume full ownership by themselves. Donaldson has said he is no longer is interested in owning the franchise, but he remains the team's ECHL trustee.
"Don and I have reached a level of frustration that, if the city council wants us to go away, we'll be happy to," Black said Tuesday. "We're not potential owners."
Brown, meanwhile, is pursuing other potential owners for a team that serves as the coliseum's primary tenant and fills at least 36 home dates annually. The coliseum manager has a little more than a week to find an owner before he attends the ECHL's annual meetings June 9-11 in Atlanta.
"The end of the league meeting is pretty much of a drop-dead deadline for an ownership cornmitment for next season," Brown said Tuesday. "That's when the league bylaws require the owner to submit a letter of credit to the league."
Mayor Keith Holliday said he would need to know the team's financial results for the past season before making a decision about next year.
"I'd like to have as much of the facts as we can," Holiday said.
But council member Tom Phillips said the results don't matter unless private owners are willing to eventually take over the team.
While he said funding the team this season was the right call, Phillips said his constituents are opposed to renewing the agreement.
"They don't want us to be in the hockey business and unless someone steps up to take up the financial responsibility, I don't want us to be in the hockey business."
The city may have other hockey options besides the ECHL. Council member Don Vaughan said he received a fax from the head of the Southern Hockey League, William Coffey, saying that, he would be interested in fielding a team if the Generals do not return next year.
In the event that the ECHL does not return to the city, Coffey wrote, "I would welcome the opportunity to put a SHL team in Greensboro."
Black said 2004 isn't the first time that the future of a Greensboro hockey team has been in doubt.
"There have been other times when it's come down to the 11th hour, and we've always dropped the puck in October," he said.
Brown conceded that the timing of Kitchen's recommendation was not favorable for an ongoing season-ticket sales drive spear-headed by the Greensboro Merchants Association.
In Kitchen's recommendation, he praised Brown and the coliseum staff for their management of the Generals during the recently completed season. He also acknowledged the value of a primary tenant for the coliseum and did not object to providing operational support for a private ownership group in the future.
"Having an anchor tenant is a benefit for the building," Kitchen said in his report. "The coliseum staff did a good job of managing the team during the past year, and there is a possible limited role for the staff in the (future) management of the team.
"If there's an ownership group out there, I'd hate to put a damper on it," Kitchen added. "But it doesn't sound right when a city is managing a hockey team."
The coliseum recorded an operational loss of $1.8 million in 2003-04. It lost $1.55 million in 2002-03 and $1.2 million in 01-02.
"The (city's 2004-05) budget is based on the possibility of hockey not being an anchor tenant at the (Greensboro) Coliseum," Kitchen said.
Staff writer Matt Williams contributed to this story.
Contact Larry Keech at 373-7080 or firstname.lastname@example.org