|Tide may roll out before they roll in
August 10, 2002
By Jack Corcoran
DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
It wasn't just that Civic Center director Ron Spencer issued an ultimatum to the Tallahassee Tide on Friday. It was how he did it.
Spencer, known for his reserved demeanor at arena board meetings, sent a scathing letter to Tide owner Bill Coffey and continued firing away after that. He gave the Atlantic Coast Hockey League's president and founder until 5p.m. Wednesday to sign a lease agreement. And then he got personal, slamming Coffey for not returning his calls over the past week.
"Hell, be a man and call me and say, 'I don't want to do it. It didn't work out,"' Spencer said. "And that's that. But after what the hell I've done for him in getting this thing off the ground, to not even pick up the phone and call me is just unbelievable to me."
The Tide unveiled their logo at a press conference last month and were allowed to move into their offices at the Civic Center even though they hadn't signed the lease and made the initial payment of $75,000. Coffey, staying rent-free, irked Spencer with his comments in Tuesday's Tallahassee Democrat. He said he hadn't signed the deal because the arena had yet to present him with the final list of available home dates for the upcoming season. He also said practice time was going to be a bigger problem than he was originally led to believe and that there were issues in the lease that still had to be resolved.
Spencer shot back in his six-paragraph scorcher of a letter: "I was distressed to read that somehow you felt the terms were not as we agreed. Our lease terms have not changed significantly since our first draft of the lease months ago.
"I was also surprised to learn of your comment that you were misled about the practice time. I absolutely take issue with that. You have not been misled about anything. If you did feel this way, why did you not pick up the phone and call me rather than bringing the issue up in the newspaper?
"No one has worked harder than me in promoting this league or in trying to talk facilities into joining this league. Bill Becker in Orlando and Bob Downey in Jacksonville will both tell you that if not for my persuasiveness, they would not be involved in the league."
Coffey, who described initial fan interest as below average earlier this week, was even more pessimistic Friday about the chances of the team ever playing a game in the Capital City. He said he was disappointed with the available home dates and said it would be cheaper to base the team in Jacksonville and only bus in for home games because of the lack of practice time at the arena.
"There are only 37 useful dates," Coffey said. "There are over 20 Fridays and Saturdays. Of course, no one gets them all. You take away those (conflicting with) Florida State (football) - I would never play against those guys - that gets you down to 17. By contract, they could take three back."
Spencer said the dates haven't changed since they began negotiations.
"That's a smoke screen," he said. "Quite frankly, he's just looking for excuses. I'm concerned if the entire league is going to get off the ground. I don't know how you can play with five teams or something."
The ACHL hopes to open its inaugural season with teams in Jacksonville, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Fayetteville, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and possibly Macon, Ga.
Spencer, who conferred with Civic Center Authority chairman Don Mills before setting the deadline, wrote in his letter that the arena needed to make critical purchases to be ready to host hockey this season. He said the arena needs to buy a cover for the ice and undergo a 12,000-hour service for the chiller.
The Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, who were twice caught violating the East Coast Hockey League's salary cap and went through five general managers and three coaches in seven seasons, left town last summer. Out-of-town and seldom-seen owner David Elmore was often blamed for the mismanagement.
"The worst thing that could happen is to have another Elmore come in here," Spencer said.
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