The Tohono O'Odham Nation, which is in a court battle with the City of Glendale over the native tribe's bid to build a resort and casino adjacent to the suburban community, has emerged as a key player in the potential sale of the Phoenix Coyotes.
A source familiar with developments in Greg Jamison's attempts to buy the financially troubled NHL team said the Tohono O'Odham will be his major investor (whether as a partner or lender has yet to be revealed). The tribe could hold as much as a 50-per-cent interest if Jamison is able to complete the $170-million (U.S.) purchase.
Jamison, the former president of the San Jose Sharks, has steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of his partners since his interest in the league-owned team became public. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly did not respond to a request for comment. Tohono O'Odham officials also could not be reached.
If the tribe and its potential casino revenue are involved in the purchase it is not expected to be an issue with the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins built their new arena because of annual revenue from a new casino funnelled through the local and state governments.
The current Glendale city council has spent more than $2.5-million in legal costs fighting the tribe's bid for a casino. But the Tohono O'Odham won yet another round when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld their right to create a reservation on the edge of Glendale for the project.
Many of the candidates for mayor and council in November's civic elections are in favour of dropping the city's opposition to the casino, although the new mayor and council will not take office until January.
Glendale councillor Phil Lieberman, who is not running for re-election, said the four members of the seven-member council who consistently support the Coyotes are so eager to see the NHL team stay they would accept the Tohono O'Odham as owners despite any hard feelings about the casino.
Jamison does not appear to have any many options for financing. The only other potential partner to surface publicly is Ice Edge Holdings Inc., a group of Canadian and U.S. businessmen that has been in and out of the Coyotes discussions for years. Talks are under way about Ice Edge buying a minority share of the team, but nothing is settled.
Jamison is also having trouble with the lease for the Jobing.com Arena. City officials say Glendale can no longer afford the $324-million, 20-year lease granted to Jamison in June, because a planned increase to the city's sales tax will now be put to a public vote in November. It is likely the increase will be voted down, which is expected to cost the city $22-million per year in revenue.
In the first five years of the lease, Jamison and the Coyotes are to be paid $94-million by Glendale, but interim city manager Horatio Skeete wants to cut that to $72-million.
Glendale council discussed the situation in executive session on Tuesday, which was not open to the public.
Without a lease, Jamison will not be able to complete the purchase of the Coyotes. At this point, his chances of doing so look bleak, which once again raises the possibility of the team moving to Canada or another U.S. city.
This coincides with the resignation of Graeme Roustan as chairman of Bauer Performance Sports Ltd. He stepped down Tuesday, to concentrate on building a 20,000-seat arena in Markham, Ont.
The proposed Toronto suburb arena is oft mentioned as a destination for the Coyotes, along with Quebec City and Seattle.
Roustan declined to comment Tuesday.