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Palace negotiating only with Koules, for now



Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment and prospective owner Oren Koules completed their face-to-face meeting today in Auburn Hills, Mich., and sent out a joint statement in which the company committed to negotiating exclusively with Koules, who heads OK Hockey, in an attempt to get a purchase agreement done by the end of January.

The statement was a clear message to the group of Tampa businesspeople led by attorneys Steve Burton and Tom Scarritt, that Koules, the Hollywood producer, and his group, which includes business partner Mark Burg and California banker Russell Belinsky is the primary candidate to buy the team. That is not to say Palace Sports wouldn't listen to the local group if negotiations with Koules fell apart, but for the time being, Koules is not only in the driver's seat but belted in.

In response, Scarritt said, his group discontinued the meetings it was holding on Wednesday with potential investors and called off additional meetings set for Thursday. In effect, Scarritt, said, their effort is, for now, dead in the water.

It is not believed Koules made an offer in Wednesday's meeting, rather the talks were broad and of generalities. It is the starting point of what still could be a long process. Even after a purchase agreement is signed, the league still must approve the sale and the sale has to close.

The announcement came as the group of local businesspeople held meetings in Tampa about possibly mustering an offer of their own. Also included in those meetings were Coral Springs real estate developer Jeff Sherrin and former NHL executive Doug MacLean. Both were part of Absolute Hockey Enterprises, which, along with Koules, failed in its bid to buy the team, the St. Pete Times Forum lease and 5.5 acres of land near the stadium for $200-million.

In a statement, Palace Sports said, “After very productive discussions today, we are pleased to announce that Palace Sports & Entertainment is entering into an exclusive negotiating period with OK Hockey, LLC, an entity controlled by Oren Koules.  We hope to move forward with a purchase agreement by late January. A subsequent update will be released at that time.”

Koules' statement was, “I am excited that we were able to take such a positive first step today. Most importantly, we established a clear and direct path so that we can now work together towards a definitive agreement as quickly as possible.”

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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