Columbus has moved a step closer to having a new professional hockey team playing in the Civic Center.
The city council will be asked Tuesday night to OK a five-year lease with Ignite Pro Hockey, L.L.C., in the Federal Hockey League. If the lease is approved, the club will begin operations on May 1 in the Civic Center space vacated by the Columbus Cottonmouths about two years ago.
The new club plans to field a team in the Federal League next season.
“If that gets approved, we got a 95 percent chance it’s going to happen,” said Scott Brand, the President and General Manager of the FHL Carolina Thunderbirds. “The Federal League has already granted the team, pending approval of the lease. I don’t know what would stand in the way. It’s a tremendous city, a tremendous facility. I can’t see any reason we won’t be dropping the puck in October.”
According to the agenda item, the council will consider, the new Civic Center lease will increase the revenue for the building by between $75.000 and $95,000.
Councilor John House, who is elected citywide, said he has not been briefed on the possible deal and knows only what’s on the agenda.
“I really hope it works out and everybody is happy,” House said.
Civic Center Director Jon Dorman declined to comment until council considers the matter.
The Cottonmouths were drawing about 2,000 fans a game and continuously losing money when owner Wanda Amos called it quits with her Southern Professional Hockey League franchise.
Most of the clubs in the six-team Federal League are in the north. The southernmost team is the Thunderbirds in Winston-Salem, N.C. Brand said he is involved in the lease talks because it’s in his teams best interest to get another franchise in the south.
The Federal League has two teams in New York, Elmira and Watertown; one in Ohio, Mentor; one in Michigan, Port Huron; one in Illinois, Danville; and one in North Carolina, Winston-Salem.
There are two advantages to a Federal League team over an SPHL team, One is money, the ownership cost in that league is less. The other is the Federal League owner would like to play beginning this fall. It would likely be another year before the SPHL could field a team here.
The Carolina Thunderbirds have an annual operating budget of about $750,000, Brand said. The budget for a new Columbus team would be similar, according to Brand. With that kind of a budget, the Columbus team would be profitable, Brand said.
After two decades of operation, the Columbus Cottonmouths folded two years ago. That left a huge hole in Civic Center’s calendar — wiping out more than 30 event days a year.
It is not known what the new name of the Columbus team would be, but it won’t be the Ignite, Brand said.