Hamilton council approves Balsillie lease option for Copps Coliseum

Jim Balsillie might not own the Phoenix Coyotes yet, but he has a place to house the team if everything goes his way.

Jim Balsillie might not own the Phoenix Coyotes yet, but he has a place to house the team if everything goes his way.

On Wednesday, Hamilton city council unanimously approved an option on a long-term lease for Balsillie on Copps Coliseum.

The deal gives Balsillie until October to bring an NHL franchise to the arena. In exchange, Balsillie is promising to sign a lease for up to 32 years if he secures the Coyotes.

Balsillie is also committing on paper to $5 million Cdn in renovations to the Coliseum by fall 2010.

As part of the deal, city council agreed to lobby upper levels of government for infrastructure funding to help pay for a larger renovation of Copps.

Balsillie, founder and co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, is trying to buy the cash-strapped Coyotes and move them to Hamilton. The franchise was declared bankrupt by majority owner Jerry Moyes last week.

"Hamilton has always been and remains now my first choice for locating a potential seventh NHL franchise in Canada," Balsillie said in a letter to city council earlier Wednesday.

"I am not considering any other site locations at this time," he said, calling Hamilton "the best un-served hockey market in the world."

The proposed deal for the Coyotes is worth $212.5 million US, and Balsillie also agreed to provide a $17 million US bridge loan to keep the team operating ahead of the sale.

But the NHL is trying to block the purchase in a U.S. bankruptcy court, arguing that it has been in control of the team since Moyes relinquished control of the franchise in November 2008 in exchange for $38 million to keep the team afloat. According to the league, Moyes had no authority to make the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on behalf of the Coyotes.

The league has also said that it has had its own share of offers for the team — notably from Jerry Reinsdorf, the chairman of the NBA's Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox.

Balsillie has to wait to see who wins the court case before he can move forward. Judge Redfield T. Baum, who is presiding over the case, is to render a decision May 19 on who owns the team — Moyes or the NHL.

With files from The Canadian Press