Coyotes sold to development group

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The Independent Online

Richard Burke, who bought the National Hockey League's Winnipeg Jets and brought them to Arizona four years ago, has agreed to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to the developer building a new arena for the club.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although several Arizona media outlets reported the selling price is $87 million.

The deal, which requires the approval of the NHL's Board of Governors, is expected to close by June 30.

The new owner, Ellman Cos., is already working on the $535 million redevelopment of a shopping mall in suburban Scottsdale that will include a new Coyotes arena.

Ellman would pay $10 million to Burke over time, his company and unnamed investors would pay $17 million and Societe General, the Coyotes' bank, would transfer a $60 million loan from Burke to Ellman.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly has been so determined to keep the franchise in Arizona that he rejected a proposal by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, owner of the National Basketball Association's Portland Trail Blazers and the National Football League's Seattle Seahawks, to buy the Coyotes and move the team to Portland, Oregon.

Burke has said he would have to sell the team to avoid continued and rising losses since the new facility wouldn't be ready by the time his lease on America West Arena in Phoenix expired. He has said he lost up to $10 million a year in the Phoenix center.

He had been elated last fall when voters approved public financing for part of the redevelopment that would include the 18,000-seat arena. But he wanted ground broken by New Year's, and demolition of mall buildings did not begin until March.

Burke and partner Steve Gluckstern paid $65 million for the Jets in 1995 and moved the franchise to Phoenix in 1996. Gluckstern left in 1998, selling his interest to Burke.

However, the view of about 4,300 of the Phoenix arena's 16,210 hockey seats is obstructed, and there are other revenue concerns.