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Oil owner apologizes

Katz says he was wrong to threaten move to Seattle

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EDMONTON -- The owner of the Edmonton Oilers, feeling the heat from fans for threatening to move the NHL team to Seattle, apologized Saturday in full-page newspaper ads.

"I took for granted your support and your love for the Oilers," said Daryl Katz in the open letter.

"That was wrong, and I apologize.

"The simple fact is that the Oilers need Edmonton, and Edmonton needs the Oilers."

Katz and the city are deadlocked over funding for a new proposed downtown arena that is pegged at $475 million but -- when loan payments, land fees and surrounding amenities are factored in -- is actually over $700 million and rising.

The two sides are still negotiating to try and strike a deal before the city's deadline of Oct. 17.

They actually had a deal last October, with construction set to begin early in 2013.

But that went off the rails earlier this month when city councillors were informed in a closed-door meeting that Katz had re-examined the revenue numbers and now needed millions of dollars more per year in public subsidies to keep the team "viable" in the Alberta capital.

Councillors rejected the ask, and relations between the two sides turned bitter when word of the new Oiler demands leaked out.

Councillors said the Oilers were making unfair demands, while Katz said councillors were reneging on an earlier promise to deliver an extra $6 million a year to him to subsidize arena operating costs.

With both sides trading barbs in the media, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said publicly it was time for the notoriously reclusive Katz to come in public before city council to fully explain how much more money he wants and why he wants it.

Katz refused.

The acrimony peaked on Monday, when Katz and Oiler brass went to Seattle to meet with the officials about relocating the team to the Pacific Northwest. That same day, Seattle officials signed off on a plan for a US$490-million arena that both sides hope will be home to an NBA and an NHL team.

Even though it was last-minute Katz demands that derailed the current Edmonton deal, Katz said Monday it was the lack of a deal with Edmonton that forced him to look elsewhere to places like Seattle and beyond.

"This is only prudent and should come as no surprise," said the Katz Group in a news release Monday.

The Seattle talks brought anger and indignation in Edmonton, a city that lived through similar relocation threats from former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington in the 1990s yet still lives and breathes the NHL team.

Katz was excoriated in social media and in letters to the editor, labelled a traitor, an extortionist, the second coming of Pocklington, a soulless greedhead. Others told the lifelong Edmontonian and pharmacy billionaire to "hit the road" or "rot in hell."

Despite being at or near the bottom of the league for three years running, the Oilers routinely sell out Rexall Place.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 30, 2012 B13

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