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Monday, February 3
Updated: May 8, 3:18 PM ET
Hamister not seeking another extension from NHL

Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister suspended his bid to purchase the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres on Monday and might withdraw completely now that his partner has pulled out.

Hamister's decision places the team's future in jeopardy beyond the end of this season. The announcement came hours before he faced a fourth and likely final deadline from the NHL to sign an asset purchase agreement to complete his conditional purchase of the Sabres.

The decision also came as Hamister's majority partner, Todd Berman, president and founder of New York City-based Chartwell Investments, withdrew his financial support from the bid.

"Given the uncertainty and complexity of the entire process in addition to Chartwell's decision, I need to step back and reevaluate whether it makes sense to move forward,'' Hamister said.

Hamister estimated that he and Berman already had spent about $2 million in legal and consultants' fees on their bid. Hamister didn't rule out finding a new partner but said it was best for him to move aside in order for another potential buyer to step forward.

Hamister's decision to suspend his purchase bid leaves the Sabres' status in limbo, much like they were when the sale process began, after the NHL took over operational control of the team last June.

Unless a new prospective owner steps forward, the Sabres could potentially fold or be relocated after this season. The Sabres and Ottawa Senators, whose future also is uncertain, both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.

"Our objective remains to find a purchaser who will maintain the franchise in Buffalo,'' NHL vice president Bill Daly said. "The club now is free to entertain other expressions of interest and offers to purchase the franchise. Mr. Hamister remains welcome to pursue the purchase.''

Rochester billionaire and failed New York gubernatorial candidate B. Thomas Golisano is prepared to re-enter the process after his initial bid was rejected by the NHL last November.

"Our position has been as long as (Hamister) had negotiations going on with the NHL, we would not entertain anything because, contractually, the NHL is obligated to talk to him,'' said Hormoz Mansouri, a member of Golisano's ownership group. "After that, we will definitely sit down and talk.''

Golisano was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Despite receiving conditional approval by the NHL last November, Hamister's and Berman's attempt to complete the deal unraveled on two fronts: Along with failing to reach a deal with Adelphia Communications, the prospective owners also were unable to negotiate up to $40 million in public assistance from state, county and city governments.

The public money was to be used for both capital improvements in and around HSBC Arena, the Sabres' home, and to refinance a $22.9 million loan taken out when the facility was built in the mid-1990s.

While he understood the economic constraints particularly facing the state government, which is projecting a $12 billion budget gap, Hamister said he grew frustrated over the slow pace of negotiations.

A statement released by Chartwell Investments cited the lack of government assistance as one of the reasons Berman pulled out.

"The lack of government assistance has greatly reduced the attractiveness of this investment. ... The time for making this deal has lapsed,'' the statement said.

Golisano likely would have to restructure his initial offer in order to satisfy the NHL and Adelphia, one of the nation's largest cable television companies and also the Sabres' largest creditor. The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last summer, is owed between $130 million and $160 million in money that former Sabres owner and former Adelphia CEO John Rigas used to buy and run the team in the 1990s.

In comparison with Hamister, Golisano was offering $13 million less in guaranteed money to Adelphia.

"While Adelphia is disappointed that Mark Hamister and Todd Berman have suspended their bid to purchase the Buffalo Sabres, Adelphia remains committed to continuing to work closely with the NHL to identify a viable buyer for the Sabres franchise,'' Adelphia spokesman Eric Andrus said.

Gov. George Pataki hoped to continue working with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to keep the Sabres in Buffalo.

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