Balsillie pushes forward with NHL arena plans in Hamilton

Phoenix Coyotes prospective buyer Jim Balsillie on Friday unveiled plans for the new Copps Coliseum in Hamilton that would include an atrium-style entrance lobby, range of luxury boxes, new lounges and restaurants and increased seating capacity.

Canadian billionaire unveils plans for new Copps Coliseum

As Canadian NHL fans continue to digest a Phoenix judge's decision to move up a hearing to discuss the possible relocation of the bankrupt Coyotes, prospective buyer Jim Balsillie spent part of Friday outlining an arena plan.

The co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., Balsillie has offered $212.5 million US to purchase the Coyotes on the condition he can move the franchise to southern Ontario, specifically Hamilton.

He unveiled plans for the new Copps Coliseum — with a focus on fan-friendly cutting-edge designs — that would include a soaring atrium-style entrance lobby, luxury boxes, new lounges and restaurants, food and bar amenities throughout and a seating capacity surpassing 18,000.

"A new team for the best new hockey market deserves spectacular new home ice, and that's exactly what the upgraded Copps Coliseum would offer," Balsillie said in a statement released by Toronto public relations firm Veritas Communications Inc.

The design for an upgraded Copps Coliseum, which is 24 years old, is aimed at improving fan experience — bringing them closer to the players, while offering better sightlines and entertainment options.

BBB Architects and its subsidiary group, Stadium Consultants International (SCI), are leading the design. They are currently renovating Madison Square Garden and Nassau County Coliseum, the home of the New York Rangers and New York Islanders respectively.

Arena would be 'a jaw-dropper,' says mayor

The Copps Coliseum renovation cost was estimated at $150 million in 2007 — the time of the last detailed construction estimate — but it could vary based on timelines, approvals and access to the facility for construction purposes.

"When completed, the BBB renovation plan will transform Copps Coliseum into a first-class professional sports and entertainment facility," Chris O'Reilly, principal with BBB Architects, said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty left the door open to using public funds for the project but said he would have to wait and see if "we get a sensible proposal."

"It'd be premature at this point to talk about funding for Copps Coliseum," McGuinty's spokesperson Karman Wong said Friday. "However, the premier continues to be supportive of bringing a hockey team to southern Ontario.

"We'll take a careful look at infrastructure proposals that come to us from the city, keeping in mind that through the Pan Am bid, the government is already committed to making investments in Hamilton to support sports infrastructure."

The province already plans to spend infrastructure dollars in Hamilton to help support Ontario's bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games — funds McGuinty has suggested could be used to fix up Copps Coliseum.

On May 13, Hamilton city council unanimously approved a deal giving Balsillie until October to bring a team to Copps.

In exchange, Balsillie has promised to sign a long-term lease up to 32 years if he secures the Coyotes.

The revamped Copps Coliseum would have 50 mid-level private suites and 20 Bunker Suites with prime seats in the first six rows between the blue-lines; new home and visitor dressing rooms, new ice surface, ice plant and climate control systems; and new upholstered seating throughout.

"This would be a jaw-dropper of an attraction for Hamilton," said Mayor Fred Eisenberger. "It would be a tremendous new asset for our city, and a major part of the revitalization of downtown Hamilton."

All that remains is securing an NHL team, which starts — or could end — with the June 9 relocation hearing. U.S. bankruptcy court Judge Redfield T. Baum has moved up the hearing from June 22, and promised on Wednesday to render a decision "as soon as I can."

The NHL is against the move and instead wants to find a buyer who will keep the team in Glendale, Ariz.

Legal arguments from the NHL and Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes can be filed until June 5.

Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 5 and declared his intent to sell the team to Balsillie and PSE Sports and Entertainment.

Depending on the outcome, an auction of the club could be held June 22 or no earlier than late August. The latter scenario would result if Balsillie's bid were unsuccessful, with the league supporting the Coyotes financially until the auction.

It is Balsillie's third swing at owning an NHL club. He previously attempted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, but negotiations broke down.

The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Moyes would like to expedite the process, so the winning bidder could move the Coyotes by the start of the 2009-10 NHL season.

Moyes has claimed to have lost more than $200 million in equity and added more than $100 million in debt since purchasing the Coyotes with developer Steve Ellman for $90 million in 2001.

Earlier this week, Balsillie told the Toronto Sun he would be open to the idea of naming the team Ontario instead of Hamilton if such a change made the franchise stronger and more marketable.

With files from The Canadian Press