Slammers homeless? Future uncertain for local hockey team as lease runs out

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Unpaid debt and an expiring lease have raised questions about where the Alabama Slammers will play professional hockey next season.

The local team, which played its inaugural season at the Pelham Civic Complex as part of the World Hockey Association 2, might be without a home rink when its one-year contract with the city of Pelham expires at the end of the month.

Slammers’ representatives said in a press release issued Monday they were told the city has &uot;no intention of extending the Slammers’ current lease at the Pelham Civic Complex for the 2004-2005 season.&uot;

Pelham Mayor Bobby Hayes confirmed who the city would not extend the current lease, which expires May 31, and said if negotiations were to take place with the team, a new contract would have to be involved.

But the biggest obstacle the Slammers face concerning their return to the Pelham facility, according to Hayes, is failure to pay money owed to the city and a host of local businesses.

&uot;They owe businesses in North Shelby County a rather large sum of money,&uot; Hayes said.

Since meeting with Hayes in early March, the Slammers franchise paid some $12,000 in outstanding sales tax and has made arrangements with most of the outside suppliers who were owed money, according to the team’s release.

But that is not enough for Hayes.

&uot;They owe us approximately $5,000 more and they haven’t purchased a business license,&uot; he said.

In addition, Hayes said the team owes money to at least eight businesses in Pelham and North Shelby County.

&uot;My job is to protect these businesses and not make deals with people who don’t pay.&uot;

The Slammers were assessed $5,604.84 in sales tax, usage tax and business license fees May 7 after a city sales-tax audit, which the team &uot;plans on taking care of immediately,&uot; according to team representatives.

&uot;Our start-up costs were more than we anticipated last season, but it has always been our intent to take care of any financial obligations the team occurred,&uot; said team president Taylor Hall.

&uot;Like every new business, hockey is not profitable in one year; you need several years to recoup your initial investment or several years of current operations in order to become profitable.

&uot;We looked at placing a team in Pelham as a long-term investment, and it’s essential that the team receive the opportunity to return in order to continue with the long-term program to make hockey and the Slammers a success in Pelham for many years to come.&uot;

The Slammers finished the season with the second best record in the WHA2 before falling in the semifinals of the playoffs.

The team attracted nearly 100,000 fans during its inaugural season, according to Slammers representatives.

The Miami Manatees, an original member-team of the WHA2, disbanded during the season when the team’s lease with the Miami Arena was cancelled despite 11 home games remaining on the schedule.

In April, the Slammers, along with the six remaining teams, disassociated from the WHA2 and announced plans to join the Eastern Hockey League.

The EHL will begin operations this fall and expects to start the season with 10 to 12 teams from the Southeast United States.

Hayes said at least one other hockey league has expressed interest in leasing the Pelham Civic Complex for next season, but emphasized there has been &uot;absolutely no negotiation with any other league.&uot;

&uot;I will not negotiate with anybody until (the Alabama Slammers) contract is through,&uot; Hayes said