Mayor Kasim Reed calls for new Hawks owner by end of year

Staff writer Chris Vivlamore contributed to this report.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is calling for Hawks owner Bruce Levenson, who self-reported racially inflammatory remarks about the team’s fan base and later announced plans to sell his interest in the franchise, to quickly take steps to find a new owner.

In a briefing with reporters Friday morning, Reed said he wants the team to have fresh ownership by the end of the year. He referenced the scandal involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who fought pressure to sell the team after audio recordings of racist remarks came to light. In that case, Reed said, more than 100 days passed between news of the comments and the sale of the team.

“What’s really happening is that most people believe we have handled what was a very negative situation in a thoughtful way in our city, but I will tell you there is some increasing urgency about when will we move forward with a new owner,” he said.

Reed also said that because Levenson came forward with an email in which he questioned whether African-American fans had "scared off" a white audience, that "we will have a more cooperative process so that we can get this done and move on."

The Hawks saw its franchise rocked after racially inflammatory comments by general manager Danny Ferry and Levenson emerged last month. Levenson quickly announced plans to sell his 24 percent share, and was joined by Washington-based partners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman in the decision. Combined the group owns 50.1 percent of the franchise.

It’s unclear, however, whether Reed’s timeframe demand is easily met. The Hawks share a complicated ownership structure; in addition to Levenson and the Washington group, the team also has ownership groups in Atlanta, led by Michael Gearon Jr., and New York. No decision has been made about whether those parties will also sell their shares.

Reed indicated that he doesn’t know if the other owners will sell. Representatives of the franchise declined comment Friday.

In a mid-September press conference, Reed said he’s spoken with as many as six prospective buyers. The mayor also raised the possibility of committing city resources in a potential deal with new ownership.

Reed met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in New York last Friday to discuss vetting those suitors. At least two of the interested parties are international, and at least one is from Atlanta, he said.

The mayor said Friday that he and Silver discussed the impact of the scandal on Atlantans. And Reed repeated that he’s committed to keeping the franchise in-town, noting it would be a “horrible irony if you have someone buy the Hawks and move the Hawks, because the Hawks got sold as a result of racist comments.”

The mayor said he’s spoken with Levenson and plans to resume those discussions after Yom Kippur.

Reed, now in his second term as Atlanta’s CEO, is seeking a prominent role in directing the team’s future. It’s the fourth professional sports drama the mayor has experienced since taking office in 2010.

In 2011, the mayor unsuccessfully worked to keep the Thrashers from relocating to Canada. And most famously, Reed and the entire city was caught by surprise last year when the Atlanta Braves decided to leave Turner Field for a new home in Cobb County by 2017.

The mayor is equally known for shepherding a 2013 deal to build a new $1.3 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium in downtown Atlanta, also set to open by the 2017 season.