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Pro hockey team in Vail?

Bret Hartman/Greeley TribuneColorado Eagles center Riley Nelson raises his hands in celebration after scoring a goal against the Oklahoma City Blazers during the second period Wednesday during Game 4 of the Northern Conference Semifinals at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
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VAIL, Colorado ” A minor-league ice-hockey league and a Texas developer are targeting Eagle County as the home of a new professional team.

A deal has been struck with the mid-level Central Hockey League ” which has 16 teams across the West, Midwest and South, including ones in Broomfield and Loveland ” to create a local team.

Mark Masinter, of Dallas-based developer Open Hospitality Group, said Saturday his company is now looking for a place ” preferably in Eagle County and possibly in Summit County ” to build an arena.

“It only happens if we can find the right kind of facility, which means we have to build one,” said Masinter, whose company also wants to redevelop Vail’s Lionshead parking structure in a $600 million deal.

Masinter said he envisions building a $50 million to $60 million arena somewhere in Eagle County for the hockey team as well as for other events, such as concerts. He pointed to Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center as a model.

“We’re going to focus on all the major towns in Eagle County,” he said.

The arena probably would be able to fit 4,500 to 5,000 people for hockey games, Masinter said, adding that he envisions selling thousands of season tickets per year.

It will be at least four years before the team starts playing, Masinter said.

“We have had great success in Colorado and feel the Vail Valley would be a perfect fit for a third CHL team in the state,” said Rick Kozuback, president and CEO of Global Entertainment Corporation, which operates the CHL, in a statement. “We will work diligently with the community at large towards an event center and are looking forward to CHL hockey coming to the area.”

Bob Hoffman, director of communications for the Central Hockey League, said Saturday that league officials have been visiting Eagle County to make sure it would be a good fit.

“The first thing you have to look at is the market and to see if there are people who are hungry for entertainment and hockey, and the answer for both of those for Eagle County is absolutely yes,” Hoffman said.

Masinter said his company ” which includes partners John Siegel and Nick Koeijmans ” will pay a franchise fee in order to secure a letter of intent from the CHL. Hoffman said franchise fees are generally around $1.2 million per team.

In the professional hierarchy, the league is akin to Double-A baseball, Hoffman said.

Some CHL teams are affiliated with NHL teams.

The new arena would satisfy other needs in the community, including a place for local junior hockey leagues and concerts, Masinter said.

“People in the community talk about the need for a mixed-use facility,” Masinter said. “I felt this was the only way to trigger one. It’s very difficult to build a facility and not have a major tenant.”

Mark Gordon, a Vail councilman, said he’s been talking to Masinter for months about the potential of a local team, even going with Masinter to Loveland to watch the Colorado Eagles and meet CHL officials.

“I am so excited about the prospect of bringing in a minor-league hockey team,” he said. “I will do everything I can to ensure the arena is in Vail because of what I think that can do for the community.”

But Gordon acknowledged that it would be challenging to find a spot for an arena in Vail, which sits in a narrow valley that is almost entirely developed.

Town Manager Stan Zemler also went to the Eagles game. He said building an arena ” and the necessary parking ” in Vail would be “pretty challenging.” Modifying Dobson to be able to host a CHL team also would be very difficult but not impossible, he said.

Open Hospitality Partners, based in Dallas, is proposing to redevelop the town-owned Lionshead parking structure into two hotels, condos, timeshares, stores, restaurants, a bus station, a conference center and even more public parking in a $600 million deal.

The move for a hockey franchise is unrelated to the bid for redevelopment in Lionshead, Masinter said.

He added that he didn’t know what the team would be named.

“I don’t have a clue,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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