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New owners to take over baseball's Victoria HarbourCats

For the second time this off-season, the Victoria HarbourCats will change ownership. The local West Coast League baseball club is expected to announce four new owners at a news conference on Tuesday at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park.
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The HarbourCats, the local West Coast League baseball club, is expected to announce four new owners on Tuesday. The sale is expected to be approved at meetings in Tacoma, Washington, on Monday.

For the second time this off-season, the Victoria HarbourCats will change ownership.

The local West Coast League baseball club is expected to announce four new owners at a news conference on Tuesday at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park. The sale is expected to be approved at meetings in Tacoma, Washington, on Monday.

“We’ve been working to complete a local ownership group that is in the finishing stages of taking control of the franchise and assuring its long-term viability and existence in this market place,” HarbourCats general manager Jim Swanson confirmed before travelling southward.

“It’s people who have looked closely at the structure and the operation and to see how this is a workable opportunity for everybody.”

Sources say two of the four owners will include Swanson and John Wilson, of Wilson’s Transportation, who is a part owner of both the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League and the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

Swanson would not confirm or deny the names.

Current HarbourCats owner Matthew Stoudt, of Santa Monica, California, will turn over the club which landed in his lap as the result of a civil case in B.C. Supreme Court against club founder and former owner John McLean.

Stoudt hinted back in January that he would look to take on local partners and investment or possibly sell the club.

“The HarbourCats didn’t have a local owner in the beginning,” Swanson said of McLean, of Vancouver. “I think local ownership of any of the sports franchises in this market is going to be the best for this market, long term.

“The comments from Matthew and the Bhootan group [Bhootan LLC, the holding company] when they took over; they recognized that as well. At the same time, just because they didn’t live here didn’t mean they didn’t care about the franchise and community.

“They wanted to do the right thing and if the right thing was operating it for a period of time, then that would be the right thing. It had to be the right group stepping forward.”

Swanson believes the move will be a successful one for the club, which opens the 2015 season on June 5 when they host the Kelowna Falcons.

“We’ve seen the Highlanders step aside and we’ve seen attendance issues with some other teams. The model for this franchise is strong and healthy. As a staff, we’re looking to move forward.”

That should officially happen on Monday with the approval of transfer of ownership.

“The ink isn’t dry on everything yet, but the ink is on every piece of paper,” admitted Swanson. “It was just finding the right solution moving forward and making sure the numbers work. Like any business transaction, anything is for sale, but others have to be willing to purchase it.”

Swanson said he was grateful with how Stoudt and the Bhootan group dealt with the club.

“I’ve had a lot of autonomy, even under the initial owner, but there will be more ability to be efficient and effective moving forward,” he said. “They gave me a lot of faith and authority and trust and I appreciated that.

“They never once came in and … imposed their will. They recognized we had a strong staff, that the direction was right and the change we were making were the right changes.

“The majority of changes we’ve made we would have made regardless if John McLean owned it or the Bhootan Group owned it, or this new group owned it. It’s about doing the right thing every day and every hour of operation.”

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com