The Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena will be sold to California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo, but the NBA team will remain in Atlanta, a person familiar with the deal said Sunday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because no official announcement has been made. The deal, subject to the approval of the NBA, is to be announced on Monday.
Meruelo confirmed the deal to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying “I’m a person who doesn’t give up. I want to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta.”
The Hawks ownership group, led by Michael Gearon Jr. and Bruce Levenson, also recently sold the NHL Atlanta Thrashers to a group that has moved the team to Winnipeg. The Thrashers deal was for a reported $170 million.
Meruelo would become the first Hispanic owner of an NBA team, according to the Journal-Constitution. He will have controlling interest of more than 50 percent of the Hawks. He founded La Pizza Loca, which has more than 50 franchised and company-owned restaurants in Southern California.
Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Meruelo (pronounced mur-rel-o) said some members of the Spirit group will maintain minority ownership positions but that he will own more than 50 percent and control ownership decisions. He would not be more specific about the size of his stake and would not divulge the price he has agreed to pay for it.
But he said, “I will be in complete control of the team.”
Although his primary residence and business will remain in Southern California,
Meruelo said he plans to spend a lot of time in Atlanta and to buy a home here.
“If you look at my previous … business ventures, I’m very hands-on, and this will be no different,” he said.
Asked if there is any scenario in which he would seek to move the Hawks out of Atlanta, Meruelo said: “Absolutely no. None.”
More from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Atlanta Spirit Group – initially led by Steve Belkin of Boston, Bruce Levenson and Ed Peskowitz of Washington and Michael Gearon Jr. of Atlanta –- bought the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena rights from Time Warner in 2004. The group soon became mired in a bitter internal fight that pitted Belkin against his partners. A five-year legal battle finally ended in December when the estranged Belkin was bought out by his partners.
The Spirit this summer sold the Thrashers to a Canadian group that moved the team to Winnipeg.
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