Lightning sale delayed again

A French bank's problems cost prospective buyer his financing.

By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008

ATLANTA - The troubled sale of the Lightning hit another roadblock, though we will have to wait and see if it is an inconvenience or a deal-breaker.

At the least, the financing lost by Hollywood producer Oren Koules sets back the process an undetermined, though perhaps significant, amount of time, just as owner Palace Sports & Entertainment was to announce a purchase agreement.

Palace Sports CEO Tom Wilson said by phone Saturday that the deal had been "99 percent done."

"And then," he added, "the world kind of blows up."

Wilson confirmed Paris-based Societe Generale, France's second-largest bank based on market value that was going to lend up to $110-million to Koules' group, closed its sports-lending business.

The bank was rocked last month when it was discovered an employee lost $7.2-billion in unauthorized trades.

Koules' group, OK Hockey, which includes business partner Mark Berg and, it is believed, banker Russell Belinsky, needs new financing. Given the credit crunch and difficulties faced by financial institutions because of the subprime mortgage meltdown, the search could be tough for a $200-million deal for the team, St. Pete Times Forum lease and 51/2 acres near the arena.

Team president Ron Campbell said the sale is not dead.

"Based on our understandings ... despite the hardships in the financial markets, the process is still moving forward, just not at the pace that any of us desired," he said in a statement. "Nevertheless, we will continue to work together to get something consummated in as safe and as timely a manner as possible."

Koules could not be reached, but Wilson said the producer of the popular but gruesome Saw movies was talking to three interested institutions.

Even so, Wilson said Koules "basically has to go back to square one."

"There's no way to tell," Wilson said when asked about a timetable. "The process seems to be much longer than we're familiar with. When we bought the team, we were basically a cash buyer."

In November, Palace Sports canceled a purchase agreement with Absolute Hockey Enterprises after it defaulted on financial obligations amid rancor that resulted in a lawsuit among its investors.

Koules, part of that group, was sued by Jeff Sherrin and Doug MacLean. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman forged a settlement, and Koules created OK Hockey.

"We have a guy who wants to do a deal and trying everything he can to do a deal," Wilson said. "We have to support him as much as we can."