Originally created 12/19/97

Hockey deal frozen solid



Fire up the Zamboni, Augusta.

You are officially a hockey town.

The Raleigh IceCaps minor league hockey team will begin play at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center next season after the deal between the team and civic center management was approved Thursday by the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority.

In a special meeting, the Authority voted 9-1 to approve the lease agreement between the IceCaps and Leisure Management International -- the Houston-based company that runs the civic center -- clearing the way for the installation of a $1 million ice floor.

The deal guarantees the East Coast Hockey League franchise will call Augsuta home for five years, with the team's option to renew for five more after the 2002-03 season.

Construction on the ice floor is tentatively scheduled to begin June 20 and will take 70-75 days to complete.

"Christmas came early," civic center general manager Pat Cumiskey said. "There have been a lot of ups and downs to the negotiations, but we were confident all along that hockey needed to be in Augusta and we're thrilled that it's finally a done deal."

The final version of the 37-page contract was signed by IceCaps officials on Wednesday. Although some minor modifications to the contract were made Thursday morning by attorneys for LMI, IceCaps owners Peter Gillespie and Mark Vieira indicated that the changes were acceptable.

"Our attorney described the changes to us today and we do not have any problem with it," IceCaps minority owner Mark Vieira said on the phone from his Binghamton, N.Y., office. "As far as we're concerned, the deal is done, and we're ecstatic over this. This is something we have worked very hard for and we look forward to getting our work in Augusta started."

The Authority's approval was the final hurdle for both sides after nearly four months of negotiations.

In late November, the deal appeared to be in jeopardy when negotiations between Cumiskey and former IceCaps general manager Frank Milne were strained.

But last Thursday in Atlanta, after top officials from LMI and the team met for 91/2 hours along with ECHL president Rick Adams, the sides finally agreed in principal to the deal.

The Augusta Chronicle has learned that Milne has been fired by the IceCaps as a result of the earlier tensions between the sides.

Milne, a native of Canada and 30-year veteran of professional hockey, will remain with the team as a player development/scouting consultant for the balance of the 1997-98 season.

Vieira said Thursday the team will launch the search for a new general manager "after the first of the year."

"They told me they were going to bring in there own people for the move to Augusta," Milne said. "I told them if they wanted me to stay on that I'd help out (IceCaps coach) Dan Wiebe until the end of season and they told me they did want me to do that. But I won't be coming to Augusta. I wish them the best of luck."

The team will play a 35-game home schedule and, in the deal, guarantees the civic center $2500 per game or eight percent of gate receipts, whichever is greater. The civic center also is guaranteed all food concessions and parking revenues, while the team will get revenues from merchandise sales.

LMI will pay for modifications to bring the current civic center scoreboard up to league standards as well as for the maintenance of a Zamboni -- a vehicle used to resurface ice.

William Holden was the lone Authority member to vote against ratification, while Bill Maddox voted to ratify "with serious reservations."

"I don't feel like the board had enough input and I think there are a couple of `boogie mans' in (the contract)," Maddox said. "I got a copy of the final contract (Wednesday night) and had four or five hours to study it. I felt like we should have called another meeting to discuss it further instead of having to make a decision overnight."

The general mood of the other Authority members, though, was anything but guarded.

"We are thrilled. ... Lets bring on hockey," Authority member Tim Mirshak said. "This is great day for Augusta. Hockey is here to stay."

In addition to hockey, the Coliseum authority has initiated talks to bring ice shows such as Disney on Ice to the civic center.

Cumiskey, a major player in the long and often tedious negotiations, was also thrilled.

"Can you imagine the impact of people coming downtown 35 times a year?" Cumiskey said. "It's going to mean a lot economically to Augusta."

The next step for IceCaps officials is choosing a new name and logo for the team. The IceCaps had hoped to launch a `name the team' contest in Augusta but the unexpected delays in negotiations may not allow for that to happen.

Also, the team plans to begin operating an office in early January and begin working toward the 1998-99 season, which opens in mid-October.

"We would really like to get the community involved in naming the team but we're not sure if we will have enough time with respect to the deadline set by the league," Vieira said. "It takes time to make sure there are no copyright infringements with the name and logo and, quite frankly, we may not be able to let the community choose a name right away."

Chances are the team will be called the Augusta IceCaps in its inaugural season and that the team will conduct a contest for a new name and logo in time for the 1999-2000 season.

"We have a few thoughts of our own as far as a name but we really had hoped to give the people of Augusta a chance to name their own team," Vieira said. "Right now, it might be best to keep the IceCaps name for one more year to allow that to happen."