Mayor Karl Dean said Wednesday that Metro government is willing to double the money it gives to the Sommet Center if a group of local investors seeking to buy the Nashville Predators commits to keeping the team in town for five more years.
In a letter submitted for Metro to the investors group Wednesday evening, attorney Larry Thrailkill expressed optimism a solution can still be reached if the group commits to staying in Nashville for at least five years. Metro, if the team makes the commitment, would be willing to double its Sommet Center operating subsidy for that period but would demand the money back if the team later leaves.
Any deal would have to be approved by the Metro Sports Authority, however, and Authority chairman Kevin Lavender has said he believed that, per state law, an Authority meeting should have been called Wednesday in order to schedule a vote by Oct. 31, when the investor group’s purchase agreement with current Predators owner Craig Leipold expires. Lavender did not call a meeting.
In an interview, Dean said he believes the only reason to open the lease up for changes would be to do so with the intention of keeping the Predators in Nashville.
“Why would we have the team leave early and still give them more money?” Dean asked.
“I think, clearly, that David Freeman [the businessman spearheading the investors group] wants to keep the Predators in Nashville, but the documents have to reflect that desire.
“What I’m looking for is the commitment to Nashville.”
Dean reiterated that the Oct. 31 deadline was something to which Metro never agreed.
“The deadline is a deadline that exists between the two private parties, and I am willing to talk to Mr. Leipold, to talk to Mr. [Gary] Bettman [the NHL commissioner] to do whatever I can to help them if they need to get more time if conversations are useful, but that is not my deadline, and that’s for those parties to resolve.
“If they want us to be helpful, fine, but, again, my goal is this — is to keep them in town, to protect the taxpayers and to open up the lease if we can get protection [that] they’re staying in Nashville.”
Dean would not say when, exactly, he placed the five-year stipulation on the negotiating table.
Thrailkill’s letter indicates the investors group has committed to keeping the Predators in Nashville through just the 2008-2009 season.
“As we have discussed, the Mayor has indicated a willingness to support an additional operating subsidy for the Sommet Center for a period of five years, as well as the expenditure of $6,900,000 in capital expenditures, in order to assist the local owners to have a reasonable opportunity for success,” Thrailkill wrote.
“In order to justify renegotiating the current lease, a new owner must commit to provide NHL hockey in Nashville for a period longer than the team’s current obligation,” he continued, saying the current Predators-Sommet Center lease runs through the 2009-2010 hockey season.
Thrailkill said Metro provided an arena operating subsidy of about $3.2 million during the 2006-2007 fiscal year and said Metro has indicated it would be willing to more than double the amount. He emphasized that Metro also “this past year … invested almost $8,000,000 in capital improvements at the Sommet Center including the purchase of a new scoreboard.”
Chase Cole, an attorney representing the investors group, issued a statement late Wednesday saying the group “wants this team to stay forever.”
“I think everybody understands and agrees that the local group’s intentions are honorable and that they desperately want this team to stay in Nashville,” he said. Cole also said it is critical the team also “succeeds.”
Cole did not respond directly to any of Thrailkill’s points but, rather, discussed ticket sales.
“We agree with the mayor. No one has a ‘silver bullet’ to guarantee the Predators’ success,” Cole continued. “Just as the mayor pointed out, the city cannot guarantee ticket sales, we cannot guarantee them, either. Ultimately, our conversations with the mayor have always been based on the concept that the city and the local investors would work together to offer the community an opportunity — a second chance — to keep the NHL in town. That opportunity will always require that at least 14,000 people also want to keep the team by buying tickets to every game.”
Cole said negotiations would begin anew today.