City moves to void ’Hounds pact

By David Skolnick

The team’s owner says the mayor’s decision is ‘ridiculous.’

YOUNGSTOWN — The city has filed a court document seeking authority to remove the company that owns the Youngstown SteelHounds hockey team from the Chevrolet Centre.

Because the Central Hockey League threw the SteelHounds out of its league June 2, the city has the authority to void its contract with Blue Line LLC, the team’s parent company, Mayor Jay Williams said.

“We want the court to recognize it’s an option we have,” he said. “Whether we exercise that option is another issue.”

The city believes it can remove the team from the center. “But the way to validate it is through the courts. ... We want to remove any ambiguity about this,” the mayor said.

Herb Washington, head of Blue Line, sharply criticized Williams for taking such action.

“Is this supposed to be an eviction notice?” he said. “This is ridiculous. ... This is how the administration treats people who step up in this community. Wow. This is unbelievable, but not unexpected.”

With no league affiliation, it’s in the best interests of the city and its residents to have the option of having the center move ahead without the SteelHounds, Williams said.

“The uncertainty and lack of clarity compromises the city’s financial interests,” Williams said. “The contract Blue Line has with the city on hockey is no longer valid.”

Washington is attempting to get a league affiliation for the team for the upcoming season and said the city’s legal action won’t adversely impact that effort.

The team was the city’s main tenant playing 32 regular-season games each season. City officials say that hard work would be needed to fill those dates but that they are up to the challenge.

Blue Line filed a lawsuit in December in U.S. District Court in Youngstown against International Coliseums Co. of Phoenix, which managed the center for the city until October 2007. Blue Line contends ICC breached its contract with the company. (The Central Hockey League is a sister company to ICC.)

ICC filed a motion in the case adding the city to the lawsuit.

When the city and ICC parted ways in October, the company agreed that any dispute with Youngstown would first go through a mediator. By adding the city to the lawsuit, ICC is violating that provision, Williams said.

In a court document, the city contends it shouldn’t be a third party in the lawsuit.

The city also filed a counterclaim in the same court record against Blue Line, stating its contract with the company is null and void because the team doesn’t have a league affiliation.

The city asked the court “for an order of ejectment against Blue Line determining that Blue Line has no right to use and occupy any portion of the facility.”

Williams and Washington have exchanged heated words in public after the CHL kicked the SteelHounds out of the league.

On June 7, Washington said if the city had provided assistance to his team a year ago to get out of the CHL, there would be hockey at the city-owned Chevrolet Centre this season.

Williams responded stating Washington’s claims were “patently false accusations.”

Washington said Friday that Williams failed to return several telephone calls he made to the mayor beginning June 3.

Instead of talking to him, Washington said the mayor opted to seek a court decision to remove his team from the center.

“It’s cowardice and unprofessional,” Washington said.

Washington and Williams say they tried to call each other once on or about June 3.

But Williams disputes Washington’s assertion that the latter made additional calls that were ignored.

“I never got a message he called” after the first one, Williams said. “He knows my cell phone number and my office number.”

James Domaz, vice president and general counsel of Global Entertainment, the parent company of ICC and the CHL, couldn’t be reached late Friday to comment.

Blue Line lost its affiliation with the CHL because Washington failed to pay the league’s annual $100,000 fee during the SteelHounds’ second and third seasons, Domaz has said. Not all of the $100,000 fee was paid by the team during its initial year in the league, he’s said. Also, the team didn’t pay fees for other items, such as fines for fighting, Washington said.

Washington acknowledges the failure to pay the league. But he said the CHL was supposed to help his team with travel expenses and never did. The SteelHounds were the only CHL team in the Eastern time zone.

Washington, who’s said he’s lost money on the team during all three seasons, said the travel expenses were greater than the fees his team owed the league.

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