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Nelson M. Skalbania (born February 12, 1938) is a flamboyant Canadian businessman from Vancouver, British Columbia best known for signing a 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky to the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association.

In 1961, Nelson Skalbania graduated from UBC with a Bachelors in Applied Science, then received his P.Eng. in 1962. He received a Masters of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1964 at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (specializing in Seismic engineering).

His initial profession as a very active consulting engineer in the early 1960s expanded into an extensive real estate career in parallel with the consulting business.

Married to his second wife Eleni (the owner and operator of the luxury Wedgewood Hotel in Vancouver), he has two daughters and two stepdaughters.

Nelson Skalbania was put in jail for theft in 1998.

Contents

Career

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Consulting businesses

President and majority owner of McKenzie Snowball & Skalbania, consulting engineers. Started as one-third owner of 3 man company in 1964, but by 1971 there were over 100 staff in four locations in structural, electrical, and mechanical engineering consulting.

Real estate transactions

Skalbania is active in real estate, primarily in the US and Canada. During the 10 year period from 1971 to 1981, he averaged over $500 million each year (over 1,000 transactions). Some highlights include:

  • Purchased in three consecutive years: three packages of real estate from Genstar. The last package of real estate of $150 million included hotels, shopping centers, apartments, and raw land (from New York to Vancouver).
  • Purchased over a span of 10 years: 31 different Eaton's properties/stores across Canada from Victoria, B.C. to Moncton, N.B. The larger ones included a downtown Vancouver Store, (redeveloped, constructed $100M project downtown Winnipeg catalogue store, redeveloped into $50M retail complex, etc.)
  • Bought and resold Omni complex in Atlanta, GA (hotel, two office towers, retail for $55M - his price $150M). He sold to Ted Turner.
  • Bought Circus World in Orlando, Fla from Mattel co., sold to Jim Monaghan and Harcourt Brace Johanovich (Sea World owners).
  • Opera Square, San Francisco ($100M project, three towers, offices, retail, etc).
  • Watergate Apartments (1,200 suite condo - $40M), Oakland, CA.

Bankruptcy and decline

On December 16, 1982 Skalbania filed a proposal in Vancouver, British Columbia, under the Bankruptcy Act that called for his 125 unsecured creditors to allow him five years to repay $30.3 million in debts. High interest rates, a depressed real-estate market and millions lost on sports ventures such as the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and the Calgary Boomers of the North American Soccer League, brought about the bankruptcy.

Sports

Skalbania purchased the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA from Charles Allard in 1975. With debts in the range of $1.6 million during the next season, he took on Peter Pocklington as a partner. Pocklington gave Skalbania a vintage Rolls Royce Phaeton used in the film The Great Gatsby, a painting by Maurice Utrillo and a diamond ring worth about $150,000 that happened to be on his wife's finger. The swap was worth about $700,000, according to Pocklington, who also agreed to take on half of the team’s debt. Several months before Skalbania held talks with the National Hockey League about a possible merger with the WHA. After it became clear that no merger would happen by 1977, Skalbania had decided to sell his half of the Oilers to Pocklington.

He surfaced next with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, when be bought the club from Harold Ducote in 1977, after a dreadful season, and helped it avoid folding. Skalbania tried to revitialize the club in 1978 by signing Sault Greyhounds star Wayne Gretzky to a personal services contract. However, this ploy failed to put enough fans in the stands, and Gretzky was sold to Edmonton for $800,000. This helped the Racers for a while but the faithful knew the end was near as Skalbania conceded defeat, folding the Racers on December 15, 1978.

In March 1981, he purchased the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League from long-time owner Sam Berger. Skalbania tried to continue the Montreal Alouettes glory years by hiring several very expensive American football stars (Vince Ferragamo, Billy Johnson, James Scott, David Overstreet,) but his bid failed miserably, as the team was dreadful. This was the beginning of a fatal decline for the team, which later became the Concordes and then folded. Fans, who were already bitterly disappointed, were infuriated by his remarks about his ownership: "Its not like I raped a nun."

Skalbania had a short but very important tenure as leader of an ownership group that purchased the Atlanta Flames of the National Hockey League. He was instrumental in their move to Calgary.

He has also owned the Memphis Rogues of the North American Soccer League, which became the Calgary Boomers, and the Vancouver Canadians baseball team.

His final foray into professional sports was as owner of the BC Lions of the CFL in 1996, but this attempt at a comeback fell through when he was forced to hand over control of the Lions to a receiver in August, 1996, only six months after he had taken on the ownership role.

Present business

As of 2003, Skalbania has continued to work behind the scenes in Vancouver to finance real estate projects, including an $800-million ski and golf resort near Squamish, B.C..

He is also involved in a New Mexico company researching ways to desalinate sea water using solar energy. He also has interests in Solar Energy Ltd. of Los Alamos, N.M., a company he helped to reorganize in 1997, and whose shares are quoted on the Nasdaq Stock Market's unregulated over-the-counter bulletin board.

Real estate industry sources say Skalbania's usual practice is to create a syndicate of investors, even though he may not be an investor himself.

Skalbania retains a keen interest in sports, particularly the business side. Friends describe him as a very knowledgeable and "fun guy to be with." But they also attribute his earlier financial troubles to a lack of patience. "Probably his biggest flaw is that he is way too quick, and maybe not thorough enough," one friend said. "He has just got a very, very quick mind."

References

  • Peter Kennedy, "Skalbania edges way back from sidelines", The Globe and Mail (ReportonBusiness.com), November 17, 2003

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