Despite its troubled past, arena football will return to Fort Wayne next year.
The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum Trustees on Thursday approved a plan to negotiate a lease that would keep an arena football team playing in the Summit City.
Bill Fishering, Coliseum attorney, said such a deal offered little risk. The worst would be losing some dates to schedule other events, which is why the team owners would be required to make a security deposit of $10,000 to $15,000, he said.
We would like to have football in the arena in the coming spring, he said.
The latest ownership group includes Mike Loomis and John Christner. Loomis, a local attorney, represented the team in 2008. He said both he and Christner converted debt owed to them by the team into equity in the franchise. He said they have been working on the deal for weeks with the Continental Indoor Football League and Kent C. Litchin, the court-appointed receiver for the Fort Wayne Freedom football team.
The Freedom went into receivership last season because of financial problems. Practice on May 13 – just before the final regular-season road game – turned out to be the teams last. Players and coaches stopped getting paid regularly.
The CIFL had to step in and pay for workers compensation and liability insurance to be updated. Before the May 23 home game, owner Bill Fahlsing said the team might not play unless it obtained an influx of cash. The team ended up losing in the league title game last year.
But the financial problems related to local arena football extend beyond last year.
Original Freedom owner Rich Coffey and later Fusion owner Jeremy Golden were kicked out of leagues for lack of payment.
Coffey, Golden and subsequent Freedom owner Todd Ellis also failed to pay players in a timely fashion.
Memorial Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said the Coliseum had to draw from the teams letter of credit to pay players for the home finale in 2008.
Loomis group will be the fifth such entity to try to run an arena football franchise in Fort Wayne. He said he intends to make the sport more affordable by cutting ticket prices to attract more fans.
We think theres a real demand for football in Fort Wayne, he said. We intend to introduce sound business practices with a strong business plan.
Loomis said there was a 98 percent chance the team would be playing next year, noting the league has tentatively agreed to hold its meetings in Fort Wayne next month. But he added it wouldnt be a done deal until the first kickoff.
The team will change its name from the Freedom, and while Loomis said one has been selected, it will be revealed later.
While the process is still early, Brown said he was hopeful the new ownership group succeeds.
They are our best hope for the continuation of football in Fort Wayne, he said.