Local group pushing to buy Wizards

Although official clarification may not be forthcoming for weeks or even months, a Kansas City-based ownership group has been making significant strides toward purchasing the Kansas City Wizards organization with intent to keep the team in town and build a soccer-specific stadium just across the state line in Johnson County, Kan.

"We're working in close concert with people who have the money and interest to keep the Wizards in Kansas City, and we're more positive than ever that we will get that done," said Sam Pierron, the president of the Heart of America Soccer Foundation (HASF). HASF was formed immediately following Lamar Hunt's December 2004 announcement that he was putting the Major League Soccer team up for sale.

John Wagner, president of the Hunt Sports Group, confirmed on Tuesday that they received a bid from a local group to buy the team and that it is one of two offers being considered.

But Wagner would not provide any further details. "Relative to any of the specifics or any of the discussions with any of the groups, we're not going to make any comments," he said.

The Kansas City Star reported the unnamed local buyer committed $35,000 toward a $105,000 update of a 2002 study to look into the feasibility and benefits of building a complex that would include a professional soccer stadium and youth tournament quality fields. On June 2, members of the Johnson County Commission voted unanimously to direct $25,000 to the project.

Pierron said, "Hunt Sports Group has been working with this investment group in one way or another for a long time now. They are very impressed with them, know their resources, and know their seriousness."

Hunt said to the paper this week that there are two offers on the table -- one from the local group, and one from an out-of-town bidder. That has been widely publicized to be Andrew Murstein, president of New York-based Medallion Financial Corp., whose bid is said to be in the area of $15 million. The local group is reportedly remaining anonymous in case they can't complete the deal.

"It is in their best interest not to come forward until the final shape of the ownership situation is 100 percent completed, and we continue to work with this local group to get the job done," Pierron said.

Hunt told The Kansas City Star this week he is encouraged by the prospect of a soccer-specific stadium being built in Johnson County, calling it "a positive".

"For it to really succeed, I think the soccer-specific stadium is going to be an important part of the process," Hunt told the paper, adding the importance of the stadium being surrounded by top-level youth fields -- in much the same fashion as Pizza Hut Park, where Hunt's FC Dallas will play beginning in August.

"That, I think, would really be a very important part of it to make it palatable," he added. "Just to build a stadium for a team is one thing, but to have the youth fields is a big part of it." Wizards players said they believe any resolution in the ownership will help support of the team.

"I think the crowd we're trying to woo is just waiting to see what decision will be made about the team. Those people are going to be a little standoffish right now for whatever reason until there's a decision one way or the other," said Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad. "Once that's made and everybody feels confident about the direction we're going as an organization, then people will show up again and support us in greater numbers."

Pierron said he believes the situation could be resolved by the end of July. "It is likely that there will be news before or in the days surrounding the All-Star Game," he said.

But Hunt told The Kansas City Star: "We don't have a specific timetable as to when it will get done. I think the sooner the better, but you can't rush those things."

Robert Rusert is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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