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Time running out for investors to finish deal to keep Preds in Nashville

Wednesday had been seen as the last day the Metro Nashville Sports Authority could schedule a meeting to hear and approve lease changes with further authorization also needed from the city council. The investors risk losing exclusive negotiating rights for the Predators on Oct. 31.

The investors' lawyer issued a statement that they hope to conclude an agreement by Friday, then work through the authority and council on final approval.

But Nashville officials aren't ready to commit to more taxpayers' money for the team without the investors agreeing first to keep the Predators in town a few years longer.

"As the Mayor said to me this morning, 'If we are going to commit additional dollars to the new owners, then they need to commit to playing hockey at the Sommet Center longer than the current lease requires," lawyer Larry Thrailkill said in a letter sent to the lawyer representing the investors.

The eight investors put down a nonrefundable $10 million deposit in August, and David Freeman, Herb Fritch and William "Boots" Del Biaggio met with the NHL's executive committee Monday in New York.

Lawyer Chase Cole said the investors can only worry about what they can control - their work with Mayor Karl Dean and other city officials.

"At the end of the day, it will be the collaborative effort of the Mayor, the Vice Mayor, the Council, and the Sports Authority that keeps this opportunity from slipping through our fingers," Cole said.

Thrailkill said in his letter that Nashville already pays for the costs of building the arena, which opened in December 1996, and spent $3.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30 for operating the Sommet Center.

That didn't count nearly $8 million spent recently for purchases including a new scoreboard.

Metro Nashville wants the eight investors to commit to keeping the Predators at the Sommet Center for five years more in exchange for upping the money spent on the arena and $6.9 million for additional improvements.

The investors would like changes that include diverting $4.2 million a year in sales taxes and seat fees to the team and building out the arena's rehearsal hall, allowing for the space to be used for other events. They also want incentives to book more events into the arena to boost the earnings.

In Memphis, the NBA's Grizzlies have a non-compete clause in their FedExForum operating agreement that helps steer events to the new arena rather than The Pyramid or the Mid-South Coliseum.

"We have presented what we believe is a specific framework that achieves the goals of keeping a viable hockey team in Nashville and respecting the needs of the City," Cole said in a statement.

Currently, the Predators could leave next June if they don't average 14,000 in paid attendance this season. That clause was triggered when they averaged 13,815 last season.

Thrailkill said city officials are hopeful the team will average the 14,000 paid attendance. But he pointed out Metro Nashville has a binding agreement to keep the team here and in the arena through the 2009-10 season.

If the new owners moved the team before then, city officials also want a guarantee that any new money spent subsidizing the Predators would be completely repaid to Nashville.

In the meantime, the Predators are focusing on hockey and not the investors' talks with city officials.

"Our deal is with the buyer, which has an Oct. 31 deadline," said Gerry Helper, the Predators vice president of communications. "That is what we are still focused on."



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