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Mystery shrouds Spirits

Reports of deal called premature’

By BLAKE SEBRING Of The News-Sentinel

The mystery of who is negotiating to replace the Fort Wayne Komets seemed to clear up yesterday, but a fog of denials has quickly clouded the issue once again.

There may be a Fort Wayne family negotiating to replace the Fort Wayne Komets in the International Hockey League, but one family mentioned is denying the rumors.

The Journal-Gazette and the Flint Journal both reported yesterday that the Franke family is behind the proposal to bring the Flint Spirits franchise to Fort Wayne. Not true, said WOWO General Sales Manager Mike Franke.

"It’s a very, very premature story,” Franke said. “It’s almost to the point that it is very strange from a journalistic standpoint I have had no discussions with anyone and I don’t know anything. Quite frankly, that story is very disturbing.”

When asked if other members of his family have talked about buying a hockey team, Franke declined to comment. “Everyone is their own keeper,” he said.

Stephen Franke, president of MidWest Quality Gloves Inc. in Chillicothe, Mo., was unavailable for comment and did not return phone calls.

The Frankes have been longtime Komets fans and hockey players.

Komets owner David Welker has continually said that a group of Fort Wayne investors is interested in replacing the Komets with the Flint franchise, though he has declined to identify the members at the group’s request. Welker has said that it is a prominent Fort Wayne family and that group members require secrecy to protect their current jobs.

Memorial Coliseum General Manager Phil Olofson said he has talked to the Frankes, but that no deal has been agreed upon and that everything is undecided. The coliseum is preparing an offer for the Frankes, who may be representing someone else.

Nothing has been signed and there is no commitment,” Olofson said. "We’re as much in the dark now as everyone else is. It’s obvious that there is some involvement from the Frankes, but it is up to them to say how much.”

Olofson said the coliseum is preparing a proposal to give today to anyone who wants to move a hockey team into the facility. The proposal is similar to the one given the Continental Basketball Association investors. Olofson also said he has not talked with anyone else besides the Frankes about purchasing the team.

Dr. Harold Mallon, president and largest stockholder of the Flint Spirits, has said his team’s move to Fort Wayne is dependent on whether a deal can be worked out between the new owners and the coliseum. Olofson said the coliseum is still standing by its policy of not splitting parking and concession fees, but this proposal should be acceptable.

"We think we have a good enough proposition that will take care of it," he said. “Right now we have no deal with anyone, but we hope to have one by the end of the week."

IHL Commissioner N. Thomas Berry said he has been talking to the prospective buyers for some time, but he has declined to identify them.

If they are able to come to an accord with the building, then well have a team,” Berry said. “The heart, desire and pocket books are there.”