Hunt, Korb unlikely co-conspirators

Sunday, May 10, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Skip Korb must be moving up in the world. He has been subpoenaed to testify about his alleged conspiracy with Lamar Hunt, a purported plot to hijack Columbus' National Hockey League franchise for Northern Kentucky.

A man who can conspire with Lamar Hunt must be a mover and a shaker of significant means. This is not the Skip Korb I know. When he asked if I planned to cover his upcoming court appearance in Columbus, the question carried an ulterior motive. He needed a ride.

"My car," Korb confessed, "is in the shop."

The undaunted dreamer behind the proposed Newport America Center project is not accustomed to limousines and Lear jets. Nor, he says, do his travels typically take him inside Lamar Hunt's wealthy circle.

"I've seen pictures of him," Korb said. "I was at games where the Bengals played his (Kansas City Chiefs). I know we've been in the same town at the same time. But I've talked to Lamar Hunt once -- on the telephone. That was to ask him if I was going to have to testify in the trial."

Hunt and his former partners in Columbus Hockey Limited are suing each other, claiming a breach of contract in the events that preceded the landing of the Blue Jackets franchise.

Lawyers for John McConnell and John Wolfe claim Hunt was secretly considering an offer from Korb, endangering Columbus' expansion bid after voters rejected a publicly-built arena proposal. Hunt's attorneys, in turn, have characterized Korb's offer as an unsolicited inquiry which had no possibility of being pursued.

A Franklin County jury will determine which side is more credible. But one verdict is already in: If Skip Korb's grandiose ideas are being taken seriously, that's pretty incredible.

Korb is the same fellow who proposed a retractable dome stadium for the Cincinnati Bengals and promised to deliver it with private dollars. The Greater Cincinnati Building Trades Council was prepared to back the project with union pension funds. But Bengals owner Mike Brown doubted the feasibility, and he wanted nothing to do with a dome.

Korb is grandiose dreamer

The idea has since evolved from a stadium to an arena, and has crossed the Ohio River in search of support. Once Korb located willing listeners in Newport, he set out in search of a tenant to make the building viable. He took a shotgun approach to his fax machine, writing the Hartford Whalers, the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders and the Hunt Sports Group, among others. Most of his letters were ignored. Hunt's people, however, showed interest.

Korb says his goal was not to steal the Columbus franchise, but to convince Hunt to buy the Edmonton Oilers for relocation. With all he was offering, you had to hear him out.

"We were going to build a state-of-the-art arena," Korb said. "The franchise wouldn't be responsible for lease payments for 10 years. After that, they'd receive a share of arena revenue streams. We offered a franchise development assistance payment of up to $10 million."

Plus depreciation. "A knockout offer," Korb called it. Certainly it sounds better than the annual $4 million lease payments the Blue Jackets will be making in Columbus' Nationwide Arena.

Nationwide Realty Investors President Brian Ellis testified Friday that Hunt Sports Group's Tim Connolly told him last June he was "seriously considering" the Korb package.

Hunt's attorneys argue the Newport deal was moot because neither Cincinnati nor Kentucky had applied to the NHL for a team.

"We're much closer to doing a project in Georgia than we are here," Korb said. "We believe we have the right formula for building a sports venue and that's by combining them with other businesses. We have no interest in sports whatsoever. None. Zero. Zip. Except that you need a major tenant in a building."

If he should get one built, Korb might consider a new car.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE