The talk gets tough
Winter Hawk owner says lease terms must change - or else
For the past 12 months, new owner Jim Goldsmith has stayed quiet and observed the situation his Portland Winter Hawks find themselves in.
'I'm ratcheting it up,' says Goldsmith, who now has his sights set directly on the city, Portland Arena Management and Paul Allen -three parties that affect the business operations of the Western Hockey League team and the 20-year lease the club took on in 1993.
Goldsmith, a 49-year-old native New Yorker who has been involved in restaurants and real estate and managing fighters, says the Winter Hawks' business deal must change - now.
'We're not going into next year with the same situation. We're not going in with the same lease,' he says. 'Just like we're not bringing the same team into the building.'
Oh, yeah? What can he do? The short answer: File a countersuit.
The lease states that the Winter Hawks pay to play games in Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden but get access to none of the revenue streams outside of their ticket sales - none of the parking, signage, or food and beverage money, for example. The lease is the primary reason the Hawks have maintained for years that they cannot make money.
And, according to Goldsmith, PAM has tried to take charge of the Hawks' ticketing through a lawsuit that would force them to join the New Era Systems. The Hawks want to continue to use Ticketmaster, through longtime sponsors Fred Meyer and G.I. Joe's.
Goldsmith threatens legal action if the Hawks cannot tap into revenue streams, citing the city's and PAM's neglect of maintenance and capital improvements at Memorial Coliseum.
'In the context of that (New Era) lawsuit, there are a dozen counterclaims that I could file,' he says. 'We're under contract, and they put this building (the coliseum) to sleep.'
Of course, Goldsmith says he doesn't want to go down the lawsuit road.
'Everybody wants me to be the good boy … but there's no reward,' he says. 'Now I'm not the good boy anymore, because I'm telling it like it is.'
Allen, who proclaimed the Blazers couldn't make money because of the Rose Quarter's broken economic model, 'ought to have some sensitivity to our situation,' Goldsmith says.
The Hawks made the coliseum their primary home this season 'because we thought we were in a general discussion on how to improve the building,' Goldsmith says. 'We feel like losers in there. It's a dump, and they leave it like a dump. And it's inexcusable because there was money set aside for it to be improved and there was maintenance available to do it, and they don't do it.'
The city expects to spend $500,000 each year to maintain the coliseum, says David Logsdon, spectator facilities manager, but he doesn't see any more funds being put into it. He says the city plans to operate it as a 'functional' second arena.
'We can't spend any large amounts in any given year,' he says. 'We're cash-flowing it.'
Goldsmith's theory: 'We are an income number on a balance sheet that keeps moving from sale to sale. Our events in the coliseum are a buffer against an annual loss in a building that ownership is trying to shield themselves from. … The Winter Hawks are being shipped around; that's not unfortunate, that's by design.'
Goldsmith plans to continue to work with the city on a better coliseum deal 'without going into the city's pockets,' and he hopes to work with Allen's people on a Rose Garden financial deal. 'I bring a lot of venue dates,' he says, and 'in the better years with playoffs, more days.'
He adds, of the coliseum: 'I'd be prepared to manage it, take it over and show (the city) how to make money.'
Goldsmith says everything will be done, by the way, to avoid relocation at some point in the future.
'If you push us into a situation where it becomes not feasible to operate, we have to consider other options,' he says. 'I didn't come here to lose money.'
The Hawks, who are in a major rebuilding project and youth movement, have the worst record in the WHL with 11 games remaining, including three at the Rose Garden and three at the coliseum.
'The coliseum sucks, and my team sucks,' Goldsmith says. 'I can fix the team, and I will. But why not fix the arena? Because you're a bunch of stuffy bureaucrats? Well, you're stuffing me out of town, pal, that's what you're doing. And you better think twice about what you wish for. Oftentimes, you get what you wish for, and oftentimes it's not what you wanted.'