By Damon Lawrence
COLUMBUS, Ga. – The Columbus Cottonmouths plan to field a team in Columbus next season. According to Columbus Consolidated Government deputy city manager Isaiah Hugley, the team informed the city they will play at the Columbus Civic Center for the 2004-05 season.
This is in stark contrast to what Larry Kish, the vice president of hockey operations for the Cottonmouths ownership group, DVA Sports, said last week.
Kish told a reporter for the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, “We’re only going to be in one place. I don’t know of anyone who has had much success operating two different hats.”
DVA Sports is trying to get a $46 million arena built in Lakewood Ranch, near Bradenton. Final approval has yet to be granted by the Manatee County Government. A public hearing is scheduled for March 11 before the Manatee County Planning Commission.
The hearing gives citizens an opportunity to listen to presentations, and it allows the applicants the chance to present their case. Citizens can speak for or against the project. The developers held their own public hearing at Lakewood Ranch High School on Wednesday night.
The Bradenton Herald also reported last week that DVA hoped the ECHL would grant the Cottonmouths a suspension of play for the 2004-05 season. The Bradenton Herald also reported last week that DVA had not asked the league for the suspension. The deadline is April 1.
According to the Bradenton Herald story, DVA hoped to use the suspension of play to turn its attention to building their Bradenton franchise.
If the ECHL turns down the DVA’s application for a suspension, the Cottonmouths would likely play ECHL hockey in the Columbus Civic Center again next season.
If the suspension is granted, the Cottonmouths could enter a lower-tier league. One circuit that is looking to expand is the South East Hockey League.
The SEHL was formed last year and has only four teams. The franchises are located in Huntsville, Ala., Fayetteville, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Knoxville, Tenn.
Commissioner Jim Riggs said the league has become aware of the Cottonmouths’ plight, but the SEHL has had no contact with the Cottonmouths.
“Our policy is that any city that has an existing team, we honor that and would only contact a team if it was free and clear of having a league,” Riggs said. “Until that happens, we don’t interfere with other league’s franchises.”