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PHOENIX-The developer of a $557-million mixed-use center that will be anchored by an NHL team is more than half way to raising the funds needed to purchase the team, but the deal has been delayed so much that it could cost the developer up to $15 million and even kill the project entirely.

Phoenix-based Ellman Cos., headed by Steve Ellman, has been on a barnstorming tour of the country with partner and hockey great Wayne Gretzky to sell shares in the Phoenix Coyotes. Ellman has raised between $40 million and $50 million, according to those who attended an investor meeting held in Chicago last week.

Ellman has until Dec. 31 to completed the $87-million purchase of the team but has maintained all along that the sale would come much sooner. His latest date for close is Oct. 15.

Ellman hoped to have the team playing in its new 17,500-seat arena by October 2002, the start of the professional hockey season, but delays in the purchase may have put that proposed date in jeopardy. “It doesn’t look like they will get in the ground by January,” says Gary Roe, Scottsdale’s redevelopment director. “There are some significant challenges ahead. This is a large case with enormous public interest.”

Lengthy public hearings are expected once Ellman finalizes the sale of the team and releases final plans for the development. The quickest any major sports arena, in recent history, has been erected was the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which went up in 19 months.

If the team has to play another season at its current venue, America West Arena, then Ellman stands to lose millions in revenue. There are 4,300 obstructed-view seats in the 19,000-seat America West Arena, home to the NBA Phoenix Suns, and the stadium has limited revenues from skyboxes and on-ice advertising. The current owner says he’s losing $12 million to $15 million a year playing in the arena.

A Stadium District created by the city of Scottsdale, the conduit for $100 million in public money to be pumped into the arena, has an expiration date of Dec. 31. If the sale of the team isn’t competed by that date, then the city could vote not to extend the life of the district.

The ice hockey arena is the cornerstone of the $557-million redevelopment of the former Los Arcos Mall, a 72-acre site that sits at the southeast corner of McDowell and Scottsdale Roads. The development will include major retail tenants, specialty shops, restaurants, bars, high-rise office space, condominiums, apartments and movie theaters.

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