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Does Kemp's Death Alter Deal for Panthers?

An investment fund chaired by longtime Republican Congressman and former Vice Presidential Candidate Jack Kemp emerged last week as a potential buyer of the Florida Panthers and their handsome revenue-sharing lease at the BankAtlantic Center. Then this weekend, Kemp died of cancer.

So does this mean the deal is dead too? "We can't comment on that at this time," says Harry Zlockower, a spokesman for Sports Properties Acquisition Corp. Very well. SPAC appears to be an amorphous enterprise, and with all the other stuff that Kemp had going on -- unrelated business interests, political causes, cancer treatment, to name three -- it seems unlikely that he was deeply involved in negotiations. Besides, after Kemp the company's goal remains the same as it was with Kemp: to make money for shareholders. Maybe this doesn't have an impact at all.

Then again, SPAC has proven itself to be a frugal, fussy buyer, and who knows what bumps might throw it off course?

The group raised $216 million in an initial public offering and in January 2008 began looking for a good sports franchise on which to spend it. Last year management entered the bidding war for the Chicago Cubs, but when the price climbed too high, SPAC took a hike. An international economic tailspin must have made it hard for the company to borrow -- though Zlockower refused to confirm this. Still, it seems to be the reason SPAC moved from big ticket items to the relative bargain bin: hockey teams. 

SPAC took a long look at the Anaheim Ducks but that wasn't the right match. Another hockey franchise, the Phoenix Coyotes courted the investors, but to Kemp's company that probably seemed too much of a fixer-upper, what with the Coyotes' lukewarm reception from the locals and current ownership's financial losses. SPAC was next seen circling the Montreal Canadiens -- only to fling that franchise aside, apparently (Zlockower would not confirm this), in favor of the Florida Panthers.

An article in last week's Sun-Sentinel described how SPAC management may like the idea of boosting its profits in the entertainment district planned for the land surrounding the BankAtlantic. The so-called "City of Oz" is bolstered by the murky future of the Davie Commons, which hit yet another snag last week in Tallahassee.

But there remains a fascinating array of variables: SPAC has just eight months to spend its loot, or it all goes back to the investors, according to laws governing U.S. securities. With the American economy slowly emerging from its recession, maybe the credit market thaws fast enough to allow SPAC to start shopping for baseball or basketball teams. At the same time, maybe this means that Panthers chairman Alan Cohen can drive a harder bargain: If SPAC can borrow, it can afford to pay more for the BankAtlantic package. With each passing day, SPAC's use-it-or-lose-it deadline gets closer and Cohen's position gets stronger. Add one more layer of complexity: that any purchase must be agreed upon by the shareholders.

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Thomas Francis

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