Metros' move to Virginia appears one step closer

Wednesday, July 18, 2001 at 1:00am

An air of mystery continues to surround a possible move to Virginia for the Nashville Metros franchise, but there are, nevertheless, signs that such a move may occur.

Former Hampton Roads Mariners owners Mark Garcea and Page Johnson requested an extension this week from city leaders in Virginia Beach, Va., so they could continue their efforts to bring a new A-League team

to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex for the 2002 season, according to Courtney Dyer, who manages both the Sportsplex and the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Dyer said the request to extend their efforts beyond the original deadline of July 16 was submitted to Virginia Beach City Manager James Spore for the city's consideration. Spore was unavailable for comment at press time.

Dyer told The City Paper Tuesday that his comments in a copyrighted story in yesterday's The Virginian Pilot were accurate. In that story he was quoted as saying that "plans are falling into place nicely" for an anonymous group of New York-based businesspeople to sign a contract in the next few weeks with the city for use of the Sportsplex, and that Garcea and Johnson "are making good faith efforts to bring this to a resolution."

"I think that's fair to say if we can get all the details worked out," Dyer told The City Paper. "It may take more than a couple of weeks but I think the intention is there. The city has yet to review a formal proposal from the owners, so we're still in what might be called the 'intent' stage.

"There are a number of parties within the city government considering the course the city will take with the Sportsplex."

The anonymous New York group wants to purchase an active A-League franchise and move it to Hampton Roads to replace the Mariners team that folded before the start of the 2001 season, according to Dyer. If Garcea and Johnson's efforts to bring a team back to Hampton Roads fail, they would have to pay about $300,000 in outstanding financial obligations to the city. The Mariners were at the three-year-old, $11 million Sportsplex for two seasons before Garcea and Johnson negotiated their way out of a 20-year lease earlier this year.

Metros co-owner, co-founder and general manager Devinder Sandhu said last week in a written statement to The City Paper that his team was entertaining an offer to sell the 12-year-old franchise but that such offers were commonplace. "We have been approached every year by someone who wants to bypass paying the league franchise fee by buying a current franchise," he said in the statement.

"In 1998, we were approached by a Memphis group. In 1999 Steve Peacock and his San Diego group approached us and wanted to move the franchise to Sacramento. In 2000, a group from Indiana approached us and wanted to move the franchise to Ohio or Northern Indiana. So this is nothing new - not in our business, or any pro sports business

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