Fresno officials are mulling a proposal from a Bay Area real estate developer that could return ECHL hockey to Selland Arena by the 2014-15 season.
David Bouquillon told The Bee he submitted a proposal to city officials last week and is awaiting their response.
Bouquillon does not own an ECHL franchise. But the development manager at Divco West said his ownership group is pre-approved to buy the San Francisco Bulls with the intent of relocating the team to either Fresno or Oakland.
"We are very interested in Fresno," Bouquillon said Thursday. "If the city would say, 'We agree with your proposal,' we'd sign tomorrow."
It's far from certain Bouquillon will hear the magic words.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said ice hockey in Fresno has a controversial history.
"While we would like to have hockey back in the arena, it has to pencil out," Rudd said.
Rudd said he, Fresno Convention Center General Manager Bill Overfelt and sports consultant Dan Barrett discussed the proposal by conference call late Thursday afternoon. Rudd declined to give details of the proposal, saying both sides probably will trade counter-offers.
Rudd said he won't take anything to Mayor Ashley Swearengin and the City Council that "doesn't work financially" for the city.
City Council Member Lee Brand, a long-standing critic of City Hall's spendthrift ways, said he won't endorse any idea that puts city coffers at risk.
"We have to learn from past mistakes," Brand said. "Remember the Falcons?"
Fresno has not had professional hockey since the Falcons ceased operations midseason in December 2008, citing attendance woes and the economic downturn. The team played at Selland during most of its history.
Bouquillon said he was attracted to Fresno for two primary reasons: Swearengin's commitment to redeveloping downtown Fresno and the city's long history with pro hockey.
"I think we can play a vital part of Mayor Swearengin's vision for downtown with 150,000 to 200,000 people visits per year," Bouquillon said.
The Falcons were ECHL members from 2003-08 and belonged to several now-defunct leagues in the decades before that.
"For a minor-league hockey team to survive that long, there had to be interest," Bouquillon said. "You'd at least think they broke even."
The ECHL is formerly called the East Coast Hockey League, but it is a nationwide operation with East and West divisions. It has franchises in Stockton, Bakersfield, Las Vegas and Ontario, which play in the same division as San Francisco.
The Bulls reportedly are losing $2 million per season playing their games at the Cow Palace in Daly City, a facility Bouquillon called "antiquated."
News that the Bulls were for sale broke last week.
CEO Angela Batinovich said Thursday in a statement posted on the team's website "the ECHL Board of Governors ... granted our request for additional time to complete negotiations that would allow for the transfer of the San Francisco Bulls to a new ownership group."
The Bulls are affiliated with the NHL's San Jose Sharks, a designation that would transfer to the new owners.
Bouquillon said his group would not purchase the team until it had secured a future home.
"It has to be a win-win, for us and Fresno," he said. "I need the city to tell me this would be great for downtown, and we want to take this vision with you."
A city official familiar with the talks said the proposal currently on the table calls for the team to pay $5,000 rent per game. The city would pay the team $3 for each person attending the game, he said.
In other words, the official said, a home game with 2,000 fans would mean the city cutting a $6,000 check to the team.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said $5,000 would not cover the Convention Center's costs for a game. He said the proposal views concession sales of food and beverages as the key to city profits.
The Falcons' legacy at City Hall is toxic. The city borrowed millions more than five years ago to upgrade the Convention Center. Much of the money was spent on making Selland a more inviting venue for the Falcons. The team had moved across town to the Save Mart Center but was keen on moving back to its old haunts.
Then the Falcons went belly-up a few games into the 2008-09 ECHL season. City officials were stuck with long-term bond debt and no anchor tenant to help pay the bill.
The Fresno Monsters amateur junior team moved into Selland the following season. The organization played games there and at Gateway Ice Center through last season, but this season its entire schedule is at Gateway.
City officials also are happy with Convention Center efforts to partner with concert promoters. Rudd said a recent concert netted $40,000 for City Hall. Rudd said he's hesitant to risk this promising strategy by tying up a lot of Friday and Saturday nights at Selland for a hockey team with no local track record.