Continuing Coverage: 14NEWS explains negotiations for new hockey - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Continuing Coverage: 14NEWS explains negotiations for new hockey team in Evansville

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) -

Questions still swirling, following a major announcement, that a new hockey team will be coming to Evansville.

A lot of those questions are coming from the Icemen organization, the team leaving town.

During an interview with 14NEWS on Monday, one Icemen official questioned the integrity of the relationship between the new team owner and Venuworks.

Today, we took his concerns straight to Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.

"The one question I would have is the fact that it's basically the same offer that was offered to us," explains Icemen Chief Operating Officer, Jim Riggs. 

"Now there's a relationship with Venuworks. I'm not really sure how that's all going to work financially. I think there's some questions there for the taxpayers of Evansville and Vanderburgh County."

That statement met by this reaction from Mayor Winnecke Wednesday afternoon.

"The city of Evansville has found an owner who wants to make an investment in a new club," explains Winnecke.

"He has made a private partnership with Venuworks, that has nothing to do with the city of Evansville."

City officials say here's how the negotiations break down:

     1. The city of Evansville will enter into a lease agreement with new team owner, Mike Hall, and his corporation Evansville Professional Hockey.

That means five years of hockey at the Ford Center.

     2. Evansville Professional Hockey, LLC will enter into a private contract with the operator of the Ford Center, which is Venuworks.  

Owner Mike Hall says no tax payer dollars are part of the negotiations.

According to the SPHL President, Venuworks will own the majority of the franchise tag, but team owner Mike Hall will own everything else.

This type of relationship is not uncommon in minor league sports, according to league officials.

On the other side, the contract with Venuworks and the city of Evansville ends in 2016.

City officials are currently in the middle of negotiations with Venuworks.

We asked Mayor Winnecke if an "ultimatum" was proposed to Venuworks, either find a new team or else.

"They were never given an ultimatum like that.  They've been very helpful to us during this process.  They possess a lot of knowledge of minor league hockey in their organization.  They have been an excellent resource for us.  It's truly a partnership.  It's never been go find a hockey team or else,"  says Winnecke.

I asked city officials what would happen to this new hockey franchise if Venuworks leaves, this was the answer we received:

     - Randy Alsman, President of the Evansville Redevelopment Commission - "All I can say is this, we believe we are protected from any potential harm no matter what happens."

     - Jim Combs, SPHL President - "Even if Venuworks leaves, Mike Hall still signed a lease agreement, and that team will still play at the Ford Center."

Earlier today, 14 NEWS received two emails from Icemen Chief Operating Officer Jim Riggs.  

In those emails, Riggs insinuates negotiations would have been different had Venuworks offered to partner up with them.

- Jim Riggs - " VenuWorks never offered to partner with the IceMen.

If they had, maybe we wouldn't have gone through the past few months of craziness."

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said, "If the Icemen never reached out to participate in any way with Venuworks, that's on them and not us."

There will now be three hockey organizations in the Tri-state.  

     1. The Icemen moving to Owensboro, KY.

     2. The Southern Professional Hockey League moving a new franchise into Evansville.

     3. The Evansville Thunderbolts part of the North American Tier III hockey league.

Icemen ownership have raised questions about splitting the fan base with three hockey teams.  

" You put two professional teams in the same market, it separates your fan base," explains Jim Riggs.

Mayor Winnecke countered back with, "Fans will ultimately decide whether two teams can compete."

"Because the Icemen decide to go to Owensboro, doesn't mean that we should give up the desire to have a team in the Ford Center.  That's my obligation," explains Winnecke.

Mayor Winnecke and new team owner Mike Hall wished the Icemen the best of luck, as they still have 15 home games left in Evansville.

The proposed contract between Hall and city officials will next need to be approved by the Evansville Redevelopment Commission.

Once it's approved, the terms of the contract are open to the public.

The next meeting for the Evansville Redevelopment Commission is Wednesday, February 17th.

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