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Harry Ornest, a Beverly Hills, Calif., businessman, Wednesday completed...

By
ROB RAINS

ST. LOUIS -- Harry Ornest, a Beverly Hills, Calif., businessman, Wednesday completed the purchase of the St. Louis Blues, ensuring the NHL club will remain in St. Louis.

Ornest said final details of the purchase of the team and the Checkerdome, where the Blues play their home games, were completed in a meeting with Ralston Purina Co. and officials of the NHL.

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'I'm delighted,' Ornest said. 'I'm glad it's over. Now we can get down to the business of getting the club going.'

The NHL last week conditionally approved the sale of the Blues to Ornest and gave him a deadline of Wednesday to meet certain conditions. Ornest said there never was any doubt that the conditions -- which were not disclosed -- would be met.

'We never had a downward trend,' Ornest said. 'We've been on the way up from the day the NHL said, 'Harry, let's get this thing closed.'

In New York, NHL President John A. Ziegler Jr. issued the following statement:

'Mr. Ornest and his group have met the essential conditions of the NHL Board of Governors' Resolution. The complete documentation is in the process of being finalized. The NHL is very pleased that through the cooperation of all parties, the loyal fans of the St. Louis Blues can look forward to continuing the dedicated support and to cheering their Blues to future successes which will be symbolic of the community spirit of St. Louis.'

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Ornest, 60, and a group of local investors purchased the Blues for a reported $3 million in cash and $9 million in notes. The group also put up $3 million in working capital.

The purchase price of the Checkerdome was reported to be $4.8 million.

The NHL had taken over control of the franchise on June 13 after ruling that Ralston Purina, which bought the Blues in 1977 when they were on the verge of going bankrupt and folding, had 'abandoned' the team.

Ralston Purina did not authorize anyone to attend the league's annual draft in Montreal and missed the procedings.

That action came after the league's Board of Governors May 18 rejected the proposed sale of the Blues by Ralston Purina to a group that planned to move the team to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Ralston Purina, which claimed the Blues lost $19 million during the last six years, then filed a $60 million lawsuit against the NHL, alleging antitrust violations in blocking the sale. The league responded with a $78 million countersuit. Both suits are still pending in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

Ornest expressed an interest in putting together a group to buy the Blues after efforts to find a local buyer for the team failed. Among the businesses joining Ornest's group were Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc, Emerson Electric Co., and three local banks.

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Ornest owned the Vancouver Canadiens minor-league baseball team from 1978 to 1980 and was a part-owner of the now-defunct Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

He operated a vending machine business in western Canada in the 1950s and also is a former sports writer, minor-league baseball player, baseball umpire and hockey referee.

Ornest's next job will be to put together some sort of organization. Virtually all of the Blues' front-office employees were laid off by Ralston Purina and have already taken other positions.

Emile Francis, the president and general manager of the team, left to take a similar job with the Hartford Whalers.

Ornest said he hoped an announcement could be made by this weekend on his choice for a director of hockey operations. The club is scheduled to open training camp in about six weeks.

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