Payment, due Nov. 12, fell $4M short

By SCOTT BARANCIK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2007

What happened?

The owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning canceled a deal struck in August to sell the hockey team for about $200-million. They did so after the acquisition group delivered less than $1-million of a required $5-million payment that was due Nov. 12.

Okay, so who's suing whom?

It's sort of a civil war among the acquisition group. The partners who allegedly failed to come up with their $4.17-million share of the $5-million payment - Hollywood movie producer Oren Koules and an affiliated entity, OK Hockey LLC - were sued by some of the remaining partners. The complaint, filed Monday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, seeks at least $50-million in damages.

What are the main claims in the lawsuit?

The plaintiffs - including Coral Springs real estate developer Jeff Sherrin and former Florida Panthers coach and Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean - accuse Koules of deliberately reneging on his $4.17-million commitment. They say Koules held secret negotiations with the Lightning's representatives in an effort to strike his own, separate purchase deal, despite having signed an agreement not to do so.

Does this make it any more or less likely the team could move?

The hockey team leases the building, oversees operations and makes all profits from ticket sales and concessions. Unlike other pro teams in the region that use publicly owned arenas, the Lightning has had the ability to break its lease with little penalty. So county officials in recent years have sought to entice a firmer commitment in exchange for subsidies. About two years ago, the county took ownership of the building, getting rid of its property tax bill and giving the Lightning savings that began at $630,000 a year. In exchange, the Lightning said it would repay a portion of that if the team relocated within 10 years. Last year, county commissioners set aside an additional $35-million for the Lightning to renovate the Times Forum. If the team uses any of the money, it must commit to stay in Tampa until 2010 and repay much of what it spends if it pulls out before 2015. The team applied for $5-million of that money in August.