SBJ/October 27 - November 2, 2003/Facilities

Wild talks with Des Moines group on bringing AHL team to planned arena

By Dec. 31, Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NHL Wild and operates Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, could expand its operation four hours south on I-35 to the $217 million Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

Officials in Minnesota signed a letter of intent with investment group Des Moines Hockey LLC and the Polk County Board of Supervisors to negotiate over the next two months the possibility of bringing an American Hockey League franchise to 17,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena, set to open May 1, 2005.

The Iowa Events Center will include Wells Fargo Arena (back) and Hy-Vee Hall (front).

In a related move, Minnesota Sports & Entertainment planned to make formal a joint venture last week with the same Des Moines hockey consortium to create Iowa Sports & Entertainment. Pending discussions with the county and due diligence on the part of Iowa Sports & Entertainment, the newly formed company could privately manage the arena and 300,000-square-foot Hy-Vee Hall, to open Sept. 1, 2004.

"It could be a pure management contract or there could be partnership elements that could include booking, promoting and food service," said Russ Simons, former GM of Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, now a consultant with HOK, the project architect.

Jim Ibister, GM and vice president of RiverCentre, the St. Paul convention facility also managed by Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, said Oct. 20 that the partnership was imminent. "We are still working on the final details of the joint venture and are within days of that happening." He said several scenarios are on the table for operations and the AHL.

There was speculation in Des Moines that the Houston Aeros, 80 percent owned by Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, would head north to Iowa. Ibister said that is not necessarily the case. The Aeros just moved into new Toyota Center as a co-tenant with the NBA Rockets. "In fact, right now, we are committed to Houston. It's a very stable situation there," he said.

AHL Commissioner David Andrews said, "We'll be in both markets by the 2005-06 season."

The AHL has two dormant franchises that the league prefers to relocate to maintain "one-on-one affiliate relationship with the 30 NHL teams," said league spokesman Jason Chaimovitch. The former Saint John Flames played last year at Harbour Station in New Brunswick before the NHL Calgary Flames bought out their local business partner and shut the operation down for 2002-03.

The other team is the old Louisville (Ky.) Panthers, who last played in 2000-01 at Freedom Hall. Former Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin recently bought that franchise.

FILLING PHILLY POST: Tim Murphy, well-known in facility management circles, will manage Citizens Bank Park for Global Spectrum when the Philadelphia Phillies' new stadium opens next spring.

Murphy, a 48-year-old Trenton, N.J., native, worked for SMG for 17 years, including building operations at Richmond (Va.) Coliseum, Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., and Pittsburgh Civic Arena. As a regional vice president, Murphy supervised NFL venues Three Rivers Stadium and Soldier Field and also was involved in SMG's European efforts.

This isn't the first time Global Spectrum has worked with the Phillies, their next-door neighbor. Two years ago, the city of Philadelphia hired the Comcast-Spectacor subsidiary to assist the Phillies with changeovers to football at Veterans Stadium after problems occurred with the infamous artificial turf before an Eagles preseason game. Global Spectrum staff also helped with concert setups at the Vet. Murphy said the Phillies are trying to schedule two preseason games to prepare ballpark personnel before the April 12 home opener against the Cincinnati Reds.

NEW BALLPARK FOR TULANE: Tulane University in New Orleans built 3,500-seat Turchin Stadium for its baseball program in 1991. Now it plans to build a new baseball venue on the site with capacity for at least 5,000, said Assistant Athletic Director Donna Turner.

She said an architect should be announced by Saturday. An industry source said that HOK Sport won the contract; HOK declined comment.

"Our goal is to start construction after the 2004 season," she said. "We're limited by our facility. That's why we play LSU at the Superdome during the regular season." Officials also hope to build on a season-ticket base of 1,500.

The Green Wave averaged 2,414 in 2003 attendance at Turchin Stadium after ranking 10th in the nation with 3,150 in 2002. In 2001, Tulane reached the College World Series after defeating LSU in a three-game super regional at Zephyr Field, home to New Orleans' Class AAA baseball franchise. The average attendance of 11,756 for that series was "more than the totals of six of the other seven super regionals," according to Turner. "Baseball has the potential to be a revenue sport."

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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