ANAHEIM — The Walt Disney and Ogden Entertainment companies are "very, very close" to signing an arena lease that would pave the way for Disney's NHL expansion team to begin play in the Anaheim Arena in October, the Anaheim city manager said Tuesday.
"We're looking at wrapping it up this week," City Manager James D. Ruth said. "I thought we might be able to tell you something today--we're so close, so close . . . we're down to a couple, maybe three issues, one of which is substantive, but we're very optimistic."
The Anaheim City Council met for about 1 1/2 hours in closed session Tuesday to discuss lease negotiations, and a special session has been called for Friday at 4 p.m., after which an announcement is expected to be made.
Asked what he felt the team's chances of starting in 1993 were, Anaheim councilman Fred Hunter said: "I would say 90%."
There were reports two weeks ago that negotiations between the companies had broken down and that the team would not begin play until 1994. But as the NHL's Monday deadline for informing the league of their intentions approaches, the parties have moved closer to an agreement.
"We've been working incredibly long hours, and I'm optimistic for the first time," said a Disney source involved in the negotiations.
What changes have occurred in the last two weeks? "The realization that it's not good for them to open an arena without a franchise and the risk they might never get one," the source said.
"There's one major obstacle--something the city has to decide they want to do if they want anyone in that building. But, potentially, that could be resolved (Tuesday). An announcement could come by Friday."
The source would not say what the obstacle was, but Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said arena parking "is the main issue."
Daly would not elaborate, but Ruth said Disney is concerned about securing long-term leases for adequate arena parking. Disney has short-term agreements to use several county-owned satellite parking areas around the arena but wants assurances that parking will be available on a long-term basis.
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner said he recently toured the arena and various parking areas and wants to make sure local fans have "the best possible hockey experience."
After a meeting of about 8,000 Disney stockholders at the Anaheim Convention Center Tuesday, Eisner also said he is still leaning toward "The Mighty Ducks," the title of a Disney movie, as the NHL team's name.
During the meeting, Disney President Frank Wells said, "Michael has agreed to make no further comment on (hockey) teams or names." As that was said, the name "Mighty Ducks" was flashed on the movie-sized screen behind both men.
Expansion franchises in Anaheim and Miami have until Monday to inform the NHL whether they will begin play next season; NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he has not yet received definitive word from either.
But indications in Miami are that Blockbuster Entertainment chief Wayne Huizenga, owner of major league baseball's expansion Florida Marlins and the hockey team, wants to begin NHL play this fall.
Huizenga has also made an informal agreement with Eisner to enter the league at the same time. "If Anaheim goes this year, we'll go," he said. "If Anaheim waits, we'll wait." Bill Perry, executive director of the Miami Exhibition and Sports Authority, said they are also "very, very close" to a lease agreement with the Miami Arena.
"They are the best judges of whether or not they'll be ready," Bettman said of Disney and Blockbuster. "If they're ready, great. If they don't think they'll be ready--if they can't do it in a first-rate way, we'll wait until next year. It's more important that this gets done right, not whether it's 1993 or '94."
NHL President Gil Stein said the March 1 deadline "is not written in stone," but the league will need an answer by early next week.
"If they're close to a decision and needed to stretch it a little, we could, but there's not much elasticity in it," Stein said. "We need to make up our schedule for the 1993-94 season."
In Anaheim, some dozen negotiators representing Disney, Ogden and the city have virtually been working around the clock in an effort to devise a lease. They met last weekend and again Monday night until about 2 a.m., Eisner said.
"We're working hard to get this deal done for next year, but it's still up in the air as to what will happen," said John Nicoletti, Anaheim Arena marketing director. "I don't want to lean one way seeming too optimistic, because we've ridden the rumor wave a lot here. Our emotions go up and down with each rumor. It's easier for us to keep an even keel."
Times Staff Writer Chris Woodyard contributed to this story.