By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The sale of the Muskegon Lumberjacks is nearly complete, with only rubber stamp league approval still necessary.LSJ Logo incert

The Jacks have also negotiated a new lease to keep playing at the L.C. Walker Arena for at least the next three seasons. Only the signature of the new team owner is necessary toMuskegon Lumberjacks make the lease official.

The team will not identify the new owner until the United States Hockey League gives its formal blessing to the sale, which could happen at any moment, according to Lumberjacks General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck.

But other media sources have reported than Dan Israel, who co-owns Asphalt Specialists, Inc. of Pontiac, has purchased the club from Joel Friedman, Ronald Friedman, Chris Ferraro and Peter Ferraro.

“I was hoping to have the ownership announcement today,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who will remain with team, along with Coach Todd Krygier, under the new ownership. “We’re just waiting for the league approval piece.

“The lease is established. I would say we have a deal. I’m still a little vague on signatures and the execution of the deal, but I know the city commission has approved it, which was the big piece. We feel strongly that we’re in a good position to move forward.”

The Lumberjacks, who will begin their sixth season in the USHL this fall, have been going through a period of transition. The current ownership group, based out of New York, put the team up for sale last season and found a Michigan-based buyer, according to Vanbiesbrouck.

League approval of the new owner is expected to be a formality.

In the meantime, the Lumberjacks have been negotiating a hopeful new deal with city and county officials to remain in the publicly-owned arena. The two sides have agreed to a lease for a minimum of three years, beginning this season, Vanbiesbrouck said. More years could be added if ticket sale targets are met.

The Lumberjacks have been struggling with attendance in recent seasons, ranking near the bottom of the 16-team league.

The new lease will also allow the Lumberjacks to drop their role as managers of the arena, a task that will now be handled by the city. The hockey team will simply be a tenant, and its rent will also be tied to the number of ticket sales, according to Vanbiesbrouck.

The Lumberjacks are very happy to be done with the arena management scenario, which forced the club to cover a lot of expensive utility bills generated by the aging building.

“I think it’s a very fair deal for both sides,” Vanbiesbrouck said about the new lease to keep the team at the downtown arena. “We truly want to have success in the building, and this allows them to have other tenants, as well. I think it locks us in for at least three years, and we’re hopeful it will be for more than that.”

The arena will also be home to Reeths-Puffer High School hockey this season. A new minor league professional arena football league team is also expected to play in the building next spring, according to city officials, although no formal announcement has been made.