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The Globe and Mail

SPAC closes in on purchase of Florida franchise

Florida Panthers defencemen Bryan McCabe (centre) and Jay Bouwmeester (4) congratulate centre Stephen Weiss (9) on his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in January

Frank Gunn

The Florida Panthers may soon have a collection of new owners if a $240-million (U.S.) offer from Sports Properties Acquisition Corp. makes its way to the NHL's board of governors.

The Panthers, their arena management company and some land surrounding the BankAtlantic Center are all part of a deal that would see SPAC, a public-stock company, conclude its first transaction since being formed last year.

Sources have confirmed the Panthers ownership group and SPAC have been in negotiations for more than a month and have reached an agreement. There are few details but, according to a recent report in the SportsBusiness Journal, the deal may involve a merger between SPAC and Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, with current Panthers owners (Alan Cohen, Bernie Kosar, etc.) receiving stock in Sports Properties.

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"You have to look at what assets are included," a source said. "With sports franchise transactions, you can cut the numbers many ways. I will say $240-million is a very healthy number."

A spokesperson for SPAC said the company had no comment.

SPAC was launched by New York financier Andrew Murstein in 2008, with plans to purchase a professional sports team. Murstein assembled a board of directors that included Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron, former New York governor Mario Cuomo and Tony Tavares, the man who oversaw the Montreal Expos before they became the Washington Nationals.

Through an untold number of investors, SPAC raised $215-million in its initial public offering and had looked into buying the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and baseball's Chicago Cubs.

"It's a great time to be sitting with a lot of cash because everybody is having a liquidity crunch these days, and nobody has financing," Murstein was quoted as saying last summer.

SPAC had also shown an interest in the Phoenix Coyotes, but were scared away by the Glendale, Ariz., lease arrangement and potential legal battles that could drag on for months. In accordance with U.S. federal securities rules, SPAC has until Jan. 17, 2010, to complete a transaction or the money it raised must be returned to the shareholders.

The Panthers hold the longest current Stanley Cup playoff drought of any NHL team (eight consecutive seasons) and had the league's 24th-ranked attendance total this past season, with an average of 15,622.

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Their arena, the BankAtlantic Center, is a thriving facility positioned to be the hub of a development plan that would see 139 acres of adjoining land used for hotels, restaurants, bars and theatres. The new area would be known as the City of Oz.

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Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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