Columbus Cottonmouths

Possible new owner of Columbus hockey team has closed meeting with sponsors

The potential new owner of the Columbus Southern Professional Hockey League franchise held a closed-door meeting with possible sponsors Wednesday at the Civic Center.

Fidel Jenkins, a New York businessman and chairman of Residential World Media, said on Tuesday he had a deal to buy the rights to the SPHL franchise from the league, but it is contingent with securing a lease for use of the city-owned and operated Columbus Civic Center.

Wednesday, Jenkins was at the Civic Center meeting with representatives from businesses and organizations that have sponsored the Columbus Cottonmouths in previous seasons.

“This is not for the media,” Jenkins said when contacted on the phone prior to the meeting in the suite overlooking the Civic Center floor. “... I am here to talk to folks and get honest and candid feedback on what I can do to make it better for them.”

Two Civic Center employees only allowed people to enter if their names were on a two-page list. Mark Baker, chief executive officer of the Hughston Clinic, has been a primary sponsor of the team for many years and one of the medical providers. Baker’s name was not on the list and he was held at the front door until he was cleared to go to the second floor of the Civic Center.

The Columbus Cottonmouths ceased operations earlier this month and the SPHL suspended the team for the 2017-18 season. SPHL Commissioner Jim Combs could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but he has previously said that the league would continue to look for new ownership and have the team ready to play in the 2018-2019 season.

One person who was not at the meeting of potential sponsors was Jerome Bechard, the face of Columbus hockey since the club was founded 21 years ago. When the team ceased operations, Bechard was the general manager and head coach. Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Bechard said he was traveling and would not be at the meeting.

On Tuesday, Jenkins said Bechard would not be the “head man of the organization.”

“We have talked with Jerome about sticking with the team in another capacity,” Jenkins said at the time.

Several of the sponsors attending the meeting said they had just been asked to attend and did not know the specifics.

The deal Jenkins has with the SPHL does not include the team name Cottonmouths or the Snakes’ logos, said Wanda Amos, who owned the Cottonmouths for 17 seasons.

Jenkins has no prior experience in owning a minor league sports franchise, he said on Tuesday.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams