Former Illinois-Chicago coach Val Belmonte, who is part of an ownership group looking to bring a USHL team to Marion, Ind., said Tuesday the league is finalizing plans to bring a team to the city by the start of the 2012-13 season.
Belmonte said the new Marion franchise is awaiting a decision from the league’s executive committee and they are reviewing a number of items before giving Belmonte’s group the green light to give the league what would potentially the USHL’s 17th franchise and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Belmonte said his group purchased the old Thunder Bay Flyers franchise’s membership. The Flyers creased USHL operations in 2000.
“That discussion is being finalized as you and I speak right now,” Belmonte said. “The last time we talked to the league, we were finalizing the process of the design, finalizing getting the property, getting our financing in order and things we had to get in line before we move forward. We wanted a franchise that has dormant…it is the old Thunder Bay franchise based on approval from the league. I am very confident we should get their approval. It is going to be a dynamic approval.”
Belmonte said the deal to bring Marion into the league could be finalized in early January, less than one month away. Once the deal has been finalized and the second construction phase begins on a $30 million, 5,400-seat facility, the Marion franchise will begin operations.
When that happens, it will start the search for a head coach/general manager for the USHL Futures Draft in April and the USHL Entry Draft in May to build a team for the 2012-13 season which will start in late September or early October depending upon scheduling. That is also when the team will focus on finding a nickname, mascot and jersey design.
Belmonte, who was also an assistant at North Dakota, UIC and Harvard, said he would not be the team’s general manager/head coach but entrust someone else with the role.
The 2010-11 season it the last time the league expanded and it added two franchise in the Dubuque Fighting Saints and the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Belmonte said he didn’t know if the league was looking at adding a second franchise to accompany Marion pending league approval.
“To me, the only (new franchise) that I am familiar with is our franchise,” Belmonte said. “I have not heard of another new franchise. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been discussion of one, but I am not aware of it.”
Bringing a franchise to Marion has been discussed since May when the city issued a press release announcing it would be constructing the Marion Sports and Entertainment Complex along with making a USHL franchise its primary tenant.
Belmonte’s ownership group, the Chicago-based Game 7 Seven LLC, will own the franchise and operate the facility. The ownership group also includes attorney and Chicago Wolves owner William Buddy Meyers and Minneapolis-area executive Kevin Dulin, who is president of an equity company specializing in the sale of companies along with providing strategic plans for clients.
It took about a year, Belmonte said, for him and his partners to come up with a business model along with the type of venue they wanted to build. Once it was decided they wanted a USHL franchise, the focus turned to using a feasibility study to find a community which would fit the league’s blueprint and benefit from hockey.
“This is a multi-sport facility and we are going to have to put in 130 events a year and hockey is going to be 30 and it is only going to be 25 percent of our business,” Belmonte said. “We had to make sure it would fit into the other type of events. At the same time, it had to be a community that was missing a component to fulfill its needs. There are a lot of great places in the Midwest and we wanted to stay in the Midwest.”
Marion became the best fit following conversations with the city’s mayor, Wayne Seybold, a former figure skater who along with his sister represented the United States in pairs figure skating.
Belmonte said Seybold told him about the land, which is now the site for the arena and following conversations with multiple parties including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, an avid sports fan, a partnership between Game 7 Seven and the city was forged.
Yet it isn’t all about hockey in Marion. The arena would be part of a project which would include a few residential areas, shopping centers and restaurants in the hopes of expanding Marion, a city of less than 30,000 people.
“We got there and we said in our minds it was a good spot and the feasbility study proved it would sustain this type of building, this type of income,” Belmonte said. “We’re trying to build a building and there is nothing on the site except of 188 acres of old farm land. The other thing I liked was in the last year, was as of August there are over $500 million worth of economic devleopment projects in Marion.”
Plans for the arena show it will hold 4,100 people for hockey and will have a second sheet of ice, which will be used for a variety of other activities.
If the league approves the Marion franchise, it would give the USHL a second team in Indiana. The first being the Indiana Ice, which were created in 2004 after the franchise moved from Danville, Ill. after its first season.
The Ice have become one of the league’s most successful franchises having won the Clark Cup in its fifth season and last year was second in attendance.