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Albany Panthers unveiled at commission meeting

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- There may be some new cats prowling the Albany Civic Center in 2010 -- the Albany Panthers.

Albany city commissioners are expected to decide Nov. 24 whether to sign an 18-month contract with the Southern Indoor Football League team, which would replace the South Georgia Wildcats of the defunct af2 and play at the Civic Center.

Asked by City Commissioner Tommie Postell his opinion of the proposed contract, Albany City Manager Alfred Lott said, "I believe this is the best opportunity to have football in this city this year."

The commission seemed poised to adopt the contract, which would give the Panthers permission to play at the Civic Center for their first two seasons or 18 months, but had concerns over the financial solvency of the new league.

Ward 1 Commissioner Jon Howard questioned Assistant City Manager Wes Smith, who helped broker the contract, about the risks to the city and asked Panther and league officials about their finances.

The only real risk, Smith and Lott said, is that the new team will go the way of the Wildcats and fold, leaving an empty civic center. Financially, the city has budgeted just over $110,000 for indoor football.

Panthers owner Andre White spoke to commissioners and said he would work with the city to make the pact happen.

"We're excited about bringing this opportunity to Albany and this community," White said. "And we're willing to do what it takes to make this happen."

Also on hand was league President Thomas Hagger, who promoted a regional plan for the team and assured commissioners his league was financially solvent.

"I've seen teams prosper and teams fail and I think the reason why this league will work is because of our regional footprint and our business plan," he said. "We don't have to worry about flying to Alaska or driving to Pennsylvania, we play locally and everyone benefits."

Commissioner Morris Gurr said he wouldn't feel comfortable voting on the contract until he's seen the financial declarations of Southern Indoor Sports Management, the parent company of the new team.

John Hargrove, the owner of the Columbus Lions, pitched the idea of having a competitive relationship with Columbus and Augusta, who each are members of the league.

"I believe we can foster a real backyard brawl mentality to our games and because we travel regionally, that means teams like us and Augusta can afford to have one bus for our team and one bus for our fans to come here to Albany to play," he said.

There is also the possibility of sponsoring youth football camps and activities both during the season and the offseason, White said. In Columbus, they've witnessed growth in a youth football program from six teams to 16 teams locally.