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Real estate mogul looks into possibility of joining Len Barrie to own Tampa Bay Lightning

Anthony Sansone Jr. would not say when he will decide whether to try to join Len Barrie as an owner of the Lightning.

He also declined to identify the "very substantial" financial investment entity he would bring with him.

But the St. Louis real estate mogul offered this Friday:

"We're certainly in the advance stages of due diligence. There's a lot that has to be done and a lot that has to be handicapped."

The process can't move fast enough for Barrie, in the midst of a league-mandated 60-day window to buy out co-owner Oren Koules, with whom he has been squabbling.

If Barrie fails by what is thought to be a mid-September deadline, Koules will get a chance to buy out Barrie. If Koules fails, the team could be put up for sale or returned to former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, which financed much of OK Hockey's $200 million purchase.

In other words, things are on a fast track, and Sansone, who spent at least a day this week in Tampa doing due diligence and touring the St. Pete Times Forum, may provide Barrie's best and last chance to get it done.

Even so, Sansone said, "Business first, sports fan later. I have no problem watching sports on television or playing them. I don't need to be an owner to identify with that. If this doesn't make sound financial sense, not a chance."

Sansone, 51, would seem to know business.

He is the principal owner of a real estate holding company and said he has a 25 percent stake in the Sansone Group, his family's commercial real estate development firm, which boasts on its Web site it manages $2.5 billion worth of property. He also was part of a group that in 2005 tried to buy the Blues.

Sansone would not speculate whether his familiarity with the league brass would help streamline a process in which he would need 23 of the 30 governors to approve ownership.

Barrie, under a gag order from commissioner Gary Bettman, like everyone else in this situation, wouldn't even acknowledge Sansone as a potential investor.

"We're working under the league's rules and working toward a resolution, if we find one," he said. "As of now, both Oren and me own the team together, and that's all that needs to be said."

What needed to be asked is what Sansone sees in an organization that finished last and next-to-last in the 30-team league the past two seasons and is in such deep financial trouble it apparently will get $14 million in revenue sharing.

He is friendly with St. Louis orthopedist and Lightning minority owner Richard Lehman but said he received no invitation. He said he initiated contact with Barrie himself.

"Certainly, it's a real challenge," Sansone said. "But I like what the NHL is doing from a brand standpoint. I think the leadership is superb. The (collective bargaining agreement) that was negotiated is something that makes a great deal of sense. … It has the potential of being a nice investment. But, again, we're still trying to ascertain what this all really means with the numbers and personnel."

And whether he can help deliver to the Lightning what the NHL wants.

"The NHL," Sansone said, "is looking for stability."

Tanguay pursuit: General manager Brian Lawton did not acknowledge the team is pursuing Alex Tanguay but said it still wants a top-six forward.

"We're still interested," he said. "We have an offer out there."

The scuttlebutt is the Wild is Tampa Bay's main competition, but Lawton said his offer will not increase "unless we move existing players" to free payroll.

Fan fest: The free event is 3-8 p.m. Aug. 29 at the St. Pete Times Forum. A season-ticket holders party will be at 1:30 p.m. An open skate from 6:30 to 8 p.m. will be followed by a charity scrimmage.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Real estate mogul looks into possibility of joining Len Barrie to own Tampa Bay Lightning 08/21/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 10:52pm]
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