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Deal reduces suitors to one
Koules, OK Hockey get exclusive negotiating rights, which quells bid attempt by local group.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published December 20, 2007
TAMPA - If everything works as planned, Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment will sell the team to Hollywood producer Oren Koules.
Through statements provided by the Lightning, the sides said they entered into an "exclusive negotiating period" with the hope of completing a purchase agreement by late January.
The agreement also squashed the effort of Tampa attorneys Tom Scarritt and Steve Burton to form an investment group and make an offer of its own.
"We're disappointed," Scarritt said. "But we wish them luck, the city of Tampa luck, and we'll stand by."
Koules, who heads OK Hockey, which also includes business partner Mark Burg and, it is believed, California banker Russell Belisnky, met with Palace Sports executives at their Auburn Hills, Mich., offices.
Palace spokesman Bill Wickett said "the parameters of a deal were discussed."
He did not elaborate but it is assumed they are the same as those negotiated by Absolute Hockey Enterprises in its failed attempt to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5 1/2 acres near the stadium for $200-million.
It also is assumed the $5-million non-refundable payment made by Absolute Hockey, of which Koules was a part, was one reason the producer of the Saw horror film series was give the exclusive negotiating rights.
"I am excited we were able to take such a positive first step today," Koules said in his statement. "Most importantly, we established a clear and direct path so we can work together towards a definitive agreement as quickly as possible."
Scarritt and Burton were trying to work quickly as well. Scarritt said they had set up meetings Wednesday and today with 20 to 30 potential investors, some local but others from out of town.
Coral Spring developer Jeff Sherrin also was on board as was former NHL executive Doug MacLean, both of whom were part of Absolute Hockey.
Scarritt said he was between meetings Wednesday when a Palace Sports lawyer called and told him of Koules' exclusivity deal and asked for the return of financial data Absolute Hockey gleaned during its due diligence. Scarritt, the attorney for Sherrin and Maclean, said he previously had permission to show the data to potential investors.
Without the data, he said, his group's effort to bid for the team was over.
"We had investors who were quite interested," Scarritt said. "But if the Lightning owners requested we return their financial information, we can't provide the potential investors the information they need to evaluate the proposal."
"I'm disappointed," said MacLean, who added he committed to the group at Wednesday's meeting. "But I understood the situation, and we, obviously, were on a short time line. I hope it works out for the Lightning."
If it doesn't Scarritt said the local effort could be rekindled, and Koules and Palace Sports still have a long way to go. After a purchase agreement, the NHL's Board of Governors will have to approve the transfer of ownership and the deal still must close.
"So," Scarritt said, "we'll wait and see what happens."