Jan 27, 2010

This guy truly walks the walk

Whether hockey stays in Albany or not, the time is right to salute the River Rats' owner

Let us all hail the Capital Region's Super Hero, Mr Walter Robb.

Here's a gentleman who made his fortune with GE, so you know he's sitting on a lot of GE stock. You should also know that GE stock has been pretty much a disaster in the past few years, so he undoubtedly took a hit. You might also surmise that he invested other sums in the equities markets, which despite the '09 comeback, have still been troubling. Furthmore, Mr Robb's generous financial backing of many a local tech startup has tossed a few clunkers in the recent past as well.

The bottom line: here is a guy who doesn't need to be tossing his money away on frivilous endeavors. At least not the REAL frivilous variety.

But then there is his most high profile "investment", the Albany River Rats hockey club. Although being generally unfamiliar with this tough-guy sport of the Great White North, Mr Robb stepped in years ago when the local franchise was on the brink of disaster. Why? Because the gentleman buys-into the argument that quality-of-life attractions make a community stronger, and therefore become a necessary ingredient in forward-thinking regional economic development practices. In this case, Albany needs a high level professional hockey team because it makes the larger area a more attractive place to live and work.

Throughout all these years, he has kept to that mission. This despite the fact that the operation bleeds six figures of red ink each year, right out of his personal pocket. But he hangs in there, absorbing it for the greater good like a loyal soldier in the battlefield.

Yes, he has no doubt been approached over that time with offers to sell or move the franchise to sunnier locales, but the answer has always been "we really need to keep them in Albany, so any deal must include that arrangement." That clause seems to have chased all such suitors away.

Now, we have the Rats' affilation deal with the NHL parent Carolina Hurricanes expiring, and they appear committed to moving their AHL club closer to their home base of Releigh-Durham. That decision is out of Mr Robb's hands. But you know it is most likely driving him bat-crazy, and he is no doubt pulling all stops to fill the hole and getting another NHL team to move their operation into the Pepsi Arena, be it with or without him.

But as he is quoted as saying to the local media: "I'm in my 80's, I can't go on forever." He is absolutely correct.

Tell you what, Walter: let it go. This community knows and appreciates just what you did with this team; and why you did it. Consider it a job extremely well done. But you've done enough, we can't -- and shouldn't -- ask for any more from you on this. You are hereby relieved of your duty.

Now is the time for some others to take the baton from Mr Robb. If that somehow happens and Albany keeps a team, hopefully thay will name the ice or something after him as tribute.

How about the Green Bay Packers model of a community-owned team, complete with tradeable shares?


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