Balsillie has deal for Hamilton arena

Waterloo, Ont., billionaire Jim Balsillie, who last week signed a letter of intent to buy the Nashville Predators, has an exclusive deal to negotiate a lease for Hamilton's Copps Coliseum.

The Nashville Predators could be one step closer to relocating to Hamilton, Ont.

Jim Balsillie, a billionaire in Waterloo, Ont.,who last week signed a letter of intent to buy the Nashville Predators, has reactivated a deal that gives him exclusive rights to negotiate a lease option for housing an NHL team at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum.

Balsillie had a similar agreement with the city last year for a lease option on the 19,000-seat downtown arena, but allowed it to lapse as his bid to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins fell through.

"(Balsillie) has assured me that he wants to secure a team and he is interested in bringing it to Hamilton," Mayor Fred Eisenberger told the Hamilton Spectator on Wednesday night after city council approved the deal. "Certainly he has the resources to do it and we will leave it up to him to pull it together."

Last week, Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd., entered into a letter of agreement with Predators owner Craig Leipold to buy the financially struggling NHL franchise for $220 million US.

The sale must be closed by June 30. Approval before that date from theleague's board of governors would be required.

Last December, Balsillie withdrew his $175-million US offer to purchase the Penguins after it was rejected by owner Mario Lemieux for a higher offer.

Despite claims by Lemieux that the team was off the market, Balsillie made a last-ditch effort to buy the Penguins, but to no avail.

Speculation had swirled that Balsillie wanted to move the Penguins to Hamilton, which is close to his home and the RIM head office in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

Balsillie had indicated his plans were to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

With files from the Canadian Press