BY MIKE FAHER
The Johnstown Chiefs’ future appears to be in serious jeopardy, with team owner Jim Weber saying he will attempt to sell the franchise if he does not have a new concessions deal within 10 days.
Cambria County War Memorial Authority members say they cannot renegotiate a complex lease within that time.
Authority officials say they want talks to continue, and they took steps to move the process forward at a meeting on Monday that was attended by Weber.
But the two sides still are far apart, and Weber said he is holding fast to his March 1 deadline.
“There’s a sense of urgency to this,” he said.
Under the current two-year lease, the War Memorial Arena keeps all concession revenue.
Weber has said he needs a piece of that pie to alleviate the Chiefs’ financial problems.
The Lancaster businessman also wants to take over concession operations. He says he can boost sales enough that the arena would lose no revenue.
“We’re willing to pay you what you’ve made in the past,” Weber told authority members.
But arena officials on Monday disclosed that they are not interested in ceding control of the concession business.
“We would continue running all the operations,” authority board Chairman Larry Giannone said.
He added, though, that officials believe they still could work out some kind of deal with Weber.
“We want to maintain a partnership with the Johnstown Chiefs,” Giannone said. “We want the negotiations to be fair for both parties.”
But for that to happen, Giannone said authority members need time. On Monday, they asked for assistance from an accounting firm so the board could develop an accurate proposal.
“A decision within five business days or a week is virtually impossible,” Giannone said.
Weber, though, said he cannot wait much longer.
He must inform the ECHL by April 1 of his intentions for next season. Weber said he set the March 1 deadline so he has time to negotiate the sale of the team if no deal with the authority is forthcoming.
Given the team’s history of financial losses, a sale could spur the Chiefs’ departure from Johnstown.
Weber said he doesn’t “want to be the guy that takes the team out of town,” but said he is weighing offers from outside investors.
“If I can’t make it work here, I’m out,” he said.
Giannone countered that authority members have a duty to carefully examine the merits of Weber’s request.
“We want to do our best as a public authority to make the right decision,” he said.