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Sports consultant bounces back after bay fiasco

It would have been hard to leave town with less credibility than Marc Ganis had in 1993.

With the collapse of Tampa Coliseum Inc., Ganis saw his vision of building a hockey arena next to Tampa Stadium evaporate. Angry fans wanted their seat deposits back, prompting the FBI to poke briefly through TCI's rubble. Local big shots rolled their eyes at hearing his name. And then there was the time Ganis was arrested and charged with walking out of an Albertsons supermarket without paying for an $8 tube of facial scrub. The charge was dropped soon after.

Ganis said that incident was a simple misunderstanding, and he has always maintained that TCI failed for reasons beyond his control, but that was the Marc Ganis Tampa Bay knew.

There is, however, another Marc Ganis who is known outside of Tampa Bay, and he is much different.

The other Marc Ganis runs a sports finance consulting firm, Sportscorp Ltd., with up to $1-million a year in revenues, according to Crain's Chicago Review. He has lectured at Harvard University, been interviewed on National Public Radio and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This month he signed to provide exclusive commentary on sports finance for CNN's business news programs.

"He's certainly one of the major players in attempting to arrange deals and advising (public officials and team owners and) not just focusing on one side versus the other," said Jerold Kayden, a lawyer, city planner and associate professor of urban planning at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. "That is unusual in this area, because you quickly become branded as the owner's rep or the city's rep or the debunker."

Last week, Ganis' name came up again here after Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe investigated negotiations between the Tampa Bay Lightning's former owners and the city of Tampa in 1993. Coe found no criminal wrongdoing, but Ganis _ a longtime enemy of the Lightning _ said he would prove in civil court that the team's former owners did him an injustice.

Ganis, 40, said he has spent "well over a million dollars" on lawsuits against the Lightning so far, and he will spend an unlimited amount of money to "see justice done."

"I can always make more money," he said, suggesting that he would use his career as a sports-development professional to make his case in Tampa Bay.

Ganis said that in most ways he has moved past his experience in Tampa by immediately turning to other projects after TCI's failure.

Still, he said, "it took me a while to overcome that in my business." That's because as he approached new ventures, journalists or others would check on his history in Tampa and come away with what Ganis said is a profoundly misleading account of TCI's failure.

As a countermeasure, Ganis filed lawsuits against former Lightning governor David LeFevre and the Japanese owners _ Tokyo-based Kokusai Green Co. Ltd., its president Yoshio Nakamura and its owner Takashi Okubo _ who had the team until its sale to Art Williams last May.

The lawsuits seek $123-million in damages and contend that the team and LeFevre muscled TCI out of position to build an arena next to Tampa Stadium so they could build their own arena in downtown Tampa.

In response, the Lightning's former owners have counter-sued, saying Ganis, who was TCI's executive vice president, and TCI president James Cusack absconded with $105,000 in ticket money mistakenly sent to TCI and misused another $300,000 in fans' seat deposits.

To Ganis' adversaries in Tampa, his reputation elsewhere is based on less than the full record of his career.

"He talks a good game, and if you don't know him, it would seem that he knows what he's talking about," said Paul C. Davis, a Tampa attorney for LeFevre and the Lightning's former owners. "But he certainly hasn't demonstrated the ability to do anything around here."

Ganis studied history and political science at Northwestern, where he graduated in 1980, then enrolled in but did not finish a combined law-MBA program at Syracuse. A lifelong sports fan, he has season tickets for his beloved New York Jets and once considered becoming a players' agent.

Then, he said, "I realized that there was a market niche that was not being filled in terms of sports facility development and creative management techniques."

Through Sportscorp, a small firm he created in the early 1980s, Ganis has worked on efforts that moved football teams to Oakland and St. Louis, helped develop stadium plans in Pittsburgh and negotiated contracts for the Baltimore Orioles and New England Patriots.

Not everything he has touched, however, has turned to gold.

Last spring, Ganis was the point man for spy-thriller author Tom Clancy during Clancy's ill-fated attempt to buy the Minnesota Vikings. That deal fell apart in May after NFL officials learned that Clancy had only a fraction of the money he said he had for the purchase.

In California, Ganis helped put together the Raiders' move from Los Angeles to Oakland, but left some bad feelings in his wake after working on a 1995 program to sell personal seat licenses for the team. The program flopped, costing taxpayers $20-million, said Gail Steele, who was president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors during the personal seat license program.

"His fault is really coming in like gangbusters selling a product that didn't work and then leaving and not saying anything to anybody," Steele said. Told of Ganis' accomplishments and reputation elsewhere, Steele said it's important not to put too much faith or reliance in any one person.

"I'll bet they were successful because of the other players asking the right questions on the home front," she said. "We had a tiny group of people who believed in him, and then all the other people were along for the ride. . . . A community owes it to itself to have a second opinion."

Tampa Bay's opinion of Ganis could either be reinforced or remade completely when his lawsuits against the Lightning's former owners go to trial in February 2000.

Talk to both sides, and you get radically different accounts of the issues at stake. But one thing is clear: The ill-will between the Lightning's former owners and TCI goes a long way back and would be hard to overstate.

At one point in 1993, for example, an idea surfaced that TCI might not only get an extension to its construction contract, but might actually buy the Lightning. An attorney in Tokyo left a message to that effect for Kokusai Green president Yoshio Nakamura.

Nakamura's response was among the papers obtained by the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office in its recent investigation. Nakamura sent TCI's attorney two letters. One was a firm but detailed refusal to consider the matter. The other simply said, in bold letters half an inch tall: "F--- YOU!"

An issue of vehement opposition remains the fate of the seat and suite deposits that TCI collected.

Ganis said the deposits were "non-refundable, according to the contract that everyone signed." He also said that, ultimately, the deposit money ended up with the Lightning.

Wrong, counters Davis.

He says Ganis and TCI used the deposits as collateral for a bank loan which was then spent. Not only did the Lightning not get the deposit money, but the team had to make good for ticket buyers who had put down deposits with TCI.

"The supposedly insolvent Japanese, we're the ones who had to go behind him and clean up his mess," Davis said. "He's always got an answer to explain his failures. It's always somebody else's fault."

_ Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.