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Pistons Owner To Buy Lightning


Art Williams bought and sold the Tampa Bay Lightning in a flash.

Williams' ownership tenure lasted less than 10 months, as Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson announced today that he is buying the team and its arena, the Ice Palace.

Like Williams, Davidson has deep pockets. He is a billionaire who also owns the Palace of Auburn Hills and Pine Knob Music, and was among those bidding for the Lightning before the team was sold to Williams.

"I guess I'm batting about .333," Davidson said of being successful in his third attempt to purchase the Lightning. "That's pretty good in baseball, but I don't know if it is in hockey."

Pistons president Tom Wilson will oversee taking care of the club and improving the Ice Palace.

"If you were going to look at the return on your money, you would not do this," Wilson said. "You have to have a love for the sport. The building helps you make money. Sometimes you have to re-invent the wheel. When we built the other building (in Auburn Hills), at the time it was the most expensive privately funded arena. We knew we couldn't go back to the city or the county for money."

Williams, 56, a retired insurance magnate from Palm Beach, purchased the team and the rights to the Ice Palace in May for $117 million. The new purchase price was expected to be slightly less after Williams said he is facing $20 million in losses this season.

One year after finishing last in the NHL, the Lightning again own the league's worst record at 13-42-5. Davidson and Wilson likened the takeover to that of the Pistons, who were the NBA's doormat seemingly every season before the group turned things around.

"We have to have a goal of bringing the hockey team (to) at least the break-even point sometime in the next few years," Davidson said. "I'm probably a little less tolerant than I was 10 or 15 years ago. You can tell if you're on the right track or not on the right track fairly quickly."

There was optimism surrounding the club following last year's sale and the selection of Vincent Lecavalier with the top overall pick in the 1998 draft. While Tampa Bay hosted the NHL All-Star Game in January, Williams grew impatient with the Lightning's performance.

"I haven't been coming to games recently for a simple reason -- this team broke my heart," Williams said in February. "I couldn't have been happier the first month of the season ... then the bottom fell out. I've been more upset with the constant losing than all the money coming out of my wallet. This has been a painful experience for me."

Though Davidson admitted he would not be a frequent visitor to Tampa, Wilson said there will be a hands-on approach with pro-active ownership.

"The people down here have been so welcoming that we can't wait to get down here," Wison said. "There's a lot of little things that could be done that people are making lists about. There are some major things, as well. We have to determine what can make this building more entertaining."

"This can be a central core of nightlife for years to come. There's a lot of other people here that have great plans for the area."

Wilson added that the club, arena and surrounding area can be tended upon with equal attention, though some of that will depend on the ownership transition.

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