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Francesco Aquilini purchases remaining 50 per cent of Canucks from John McCaw

The Aquilini Investment Group has entered into an agreement to purchase the remaining 50 per cent of the Canucks and their arena from Seattle businessman John McCaw, the team announced Wednesday.

The Aquilini group, owned by Francesco, Roberto and Paolo Aquilini, originally purchased 50 per cent of the Canucks and the arena from McCaw in November of 2004.

At that time, neither side would give dollar figures. Forbes magazine estimated the Canucks' worth at US$148 million in 2004.

"Today's announcement is exciting for our family and we are proud that we will be the 100 per cent owners of this great franchise and world class facility," Francesco Aquilini, the managing director of the Aquilini Investment Group, said in a release. "The business of hockey in Vancouver is very strong now and John McCaw deserves credit for that."

Aquilini didn't immediately return telephone calls. A news conference has been called for Thursday in Vancouver.

Callers to Vancouver radio sports were thrilled the Canucks are returning to local ownership. McCaw, a reclusive billionaire who rarely spoke to the media, became the Canucks majority owner in November of 1996.

"Owning the Canucks has been an honour and I am proud of the work the organization has done in Vancouver over the years," McCaw said in a release. "I am confident that the business is in a very strong position moving forward.

"I know I am leaving the team in good hands."

The transaction between the Aquilinis and McCaw is expected to close early in 2007. The sale is subject to NHL approval.

Aquilini spent 15 years as a Canucks season ticket-holder before purchasing half the team. The sale didn't go smoothly though.

Two other Vancouver businessmen are suing Aquilini over the deal. Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie filed a statement of claim in court alleging McCaw and Aquilini acted in bad faith and disregarded legal agreements when they completed their deal.

Aquilini denies the allegations.

The Canucks are also named in a in a lawsuit filed by Steve Moore. The former Colorado Avalanche forward suffered three broken vertebrae in his neck, a concussion and facial injuries after being sucker punched by Todd Bertuzzi in a March 2004 game at GM Place.

While McCaw was often criticized for being an absentee owner, he did hang onto the Canucks through dark times. The team was bad on the ice and played before empty seats. It's estimated McCaw lost C$90 million.

When Brian Burke was hired as general manager, the Canucks added talent while controlling costs. The Canucks are now the dominate sports franchise in B.C. GM Place is usually sold out and there is a waiting list for season tickets.

Burke was released as general manager in May 2004 and replaced by Dave Nonis.

The Aquilini group was founded almost 50 years ago by Luigi Aquilini, Francesco's father. One of his first investments was a house he purchased in East Vancouver.

The company now has a real estate portfolio that includes commercial and residential property, hotels and golf courses. It also has significant agricultural holdings, including blueberry and cranberry farms.

Back in 2004, Aquilini said it's important to have a local businessman involved in ownership.

"Local ownership adds value, it puts deeper roots in the community," he said. "I think it's a good thing. People have been wanting that for a long time."


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