By PATRICK HALL
The Wilson Post
A representative of the Central Hockey League indicated they are committed to placing a new minor league hockey team in Lebanon during Mayor Philip Craigheads presentation of a proposed entertainment district and events center on Wednesday.
Rick Kozuback, president and CEO of Global Entertainment Corporation, owners of the CHL, said the company is planning to create a new hockey team to fill the 4,500 seat events center within the Cumberland Center entertainment district.
We believe wholeheartedly that the community will support it, Kozuback said of the hockey team.
Craighead had previously shown plans to establish a 700-plus acre entertainment district in Lebanon on Tuesday at a meeting of the Noon Rotary Club. There, the mayor informed the club that ice hockey would be a central magnet of the district.
On Wednesday, many attendees filled a screen room at the Roxy Theater to hear the mayors official announcement, as well as hear from the developers, Vastland Realty and Kozuback.
The image of Wilson County and Lebanon will be changed forever, Craighead said on Wednesday.
Kozuback said the CHL has been around for 20 years and has 14 teams currently playing hockey in nine states, with two teams being inactive. After the presentation, he told The Wilson Post that bringing a team to Lebanon would involve the creation of the leagues 15th active team.
The CHL is considered double-A hockey, with players ranging in the 20 to 25 years old bracket and trying to make it into the National Hockey League.
In creating a new team in Lebanon, Kozuback said the first thing the league has to secure is an ownership group for the team. He told The Post they were in close negotiations with a group that was interested in owning the team.
Were very close to having that deal done, Kozuback said of ownership negotiations. When asked if the party interested in owning the new team was a local group, Kozuback said, You could call them local.
He would not elaborate if the group was a company, a collection of individuals or a professional sports team.
Sources close to the planning of the entertainment district had previously indicated there were negotiations with the Nashville Predators about owning the minor league team.
Jeff Cogen, CEO of the Predators, was present at the announcement and said the organization was fully supportive of hockey in Lebanon. Cogen said he has personally known Kozuback for more than 20 years and said the CHL brings a quality of life to communities where their hockey teams are located.
Our ownership group, we are firmly behind this initiative, Cogen said during the presentation.
Afterward, Cogen told The Post that the Predators ownership group is enthusiastic about the possibility of minor league hockey being located so close to their own team.
He would not elaborate on the extent of the Predators involvement in the process to start a new CHL team here, but did say they will support anything that brings hockey to Lebanon.
Were looking for any opportunity to make this a success, Cogen said. If theres going to be hockey 30 miles from our front door, were going to be supportive.
In 2005, former Lebanon Mayor Don Fox proposed bringing a minor league hockey team to Lebanon, and Kozuback said he was involved in those efforts at that time as well.
During that effort, Kozuback said the group interested in owning the hockey team was out-of-state and confirmed the group negotiating currently to own the team is local.
Phase I of plans for the Cumberland Center include a 200,000 square foot retail space with the first tenant being RCC Western Wear based out of Rapid City, S.D. The retail company purchased 13,500 square feet and plans to begin construction in spring 2012.
The Cumberland Center concept still requires the approval of the Lebanon City Council and two-thirds of the Wilson County Commission.
Beyond that, the Tennessee General Assembly has to approve the creation of the entertainment district and Entertainment District Authority, a board that will collect and utilize property and sales taxes within the district to further develop the area.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.