Originally created 02/11/99

Williams wants to share ownership of Lightning



TAMPA, Fla. -- Less than a year after buying the Tampa Bay Lightning, owner Art Williams is talking about the possibility of getting rid of the struggling NHL franchise.

Unhappy with how the team is performing, Williams told the Tampa Tribune in Wednesday's editions that he will sell the team and rights to the Ice Palace if he can't finalize a partnership arrangement by early this summer.

The 56-year-old retired insurance magnate bought the Lightning and rights to the arena for $117 million last May. He said he's confident he can find a partner by the end of June.

Among the possible suitors, Williams said, is a local individual who has come forward with "a 50-50" proposition. Another possibility might involve sharing ownership with two out-of-town groups.

"I would still have a sizable investment in that scenario, but the guy who might be the majority owner has tremendous NHL experience," Williams said.

Williams declined to identify any of the interested parties, but vowed, "the people of Tampa Bay would be delighted if either came aboard."

The Tribune said Williams, of Palm Beach, may lose more than $20 million in his first season as an NHL owner. Anyone buying the franchise would have to keep the team in Tampa since the Lightning have 27 years remaining on their 30-year lease with the Tampa Sports Authority.

Last summer Williams took over a franchise that was struggling on and off the ice.

The first-year owner has raised the team payroll, funded improvements in the Ice Palace, agreed to charter flights for all road trips and paid off a number of creditors.

Yet, the Lightning continue to lose. At their current pace, they'll finish with the NHL's worst record for the second straight season.

"I haven't been coming to games recently for a simple reason -- this team broke my heart," Williams said.

"I couldn't have been happier the first month of the season ... then the bottom fell out. I've been more upset with the constant losing than all the money coming out of my wallet. This has been a painful experience for me."

Meanwhile, coach and general manager Jacques Demers on Wednesday said Williams has not placed any restrictions on what he can or can't do to try to try to turn the team around.

"I spoke to Art (Tuesday). He didn't tell me not to trade any players," Demers said, adding that he understands the owner's feelings.

"Art is a businessman. I don't have to sign the checks every two weeks. I don't have to lose $20 million this year," Demers said. "Every conversation I've had with Art the last two weeks has been extremely positive about the direction the team is headed. He's the owner. It's his team. He has to do what he thinks is best for his family."