Downey businessman purchases Atlanta HawksBody: DOWNEY - Downey businessman and developer Alex Meruelo signed a deal on Monday to become the new majority owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If the agreement is approved by the NBA Board of Governors, Meruelo, who founded La Pizza Loca and heads a Downey-based investment firm, will become the first primary Hispanic owner of an NBA franchise. "It's a privilege and I'm honored," said Meruelo during a press conference on Monday. "Me being Hispanic, being first is really touching. I hope to do the right thing. I just want to make sure I make them proud." After months of negotiations, Meruelo and the Hawks' current owner, the Atlanta Spirit Group, signed the ownership agreement, which also includes operating rights to Philips Arena. Per the agreement, some members of the Spirit group will maintain minority ownership positions, but Meruelo will ultimately own more than 50 percent of the team and control ownership decisions. It is unknown how much Meruelo agreed to pay for the team. In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Meruelo said he would not seek to move the Hawks out of Atlanta. "I want to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta," he said. "If you look at my previous…business ventures, I'm very hands-on, and this will be no different." Meruelo, 48, is the founder and chairman of The Meruelo Group, a holding company that evolved from a single pizza restaurant, La Pizza Loca, which Meruelo opened in Los Angeles in 1985, when he was 21-years-old. Today, the pizza company has grown significantly into a chain of more than 50 locations throughout Southern California. In the late 1980s, The Meruelo Group, currently located at 9550 Firestone Blvd., began to diversify, tackling residential and commercial real estate development. During the 1990s, the company embraced infrastructure and utility construction and engineering. Most recently, Meruelo acquired the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada and KWHY-TV, a Spanish-language station in Los Angeles. In 1961, Meruelo's parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba, settling initially in Miami before moving to New York. When Meruelo was just 3-years-old, the family moved to Southern California. Meruelo, who expressed interest in the Hawks earlier this year, entered exclusive talks with The Atlanta Spirit Group in May. The Spirit group bought the Hawks and Philips Arena rights from Time Warner in 2004, and has been actively seeking a buyer for the Hawks for more than a year now. Despite the labor dispute that has the NBA in a lockout, Meruelo, an alumnus of California State University, Long Beach, moved forward with the historic agreement, which could take months to finalize. Meruelo told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that owning an NBA team would be the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition. "It's something I've always wanted my entire life to somehow be a part of the NBA," Meruelo said on Monday. "[It] has been a dream of mine and a passion, and you'll definitely see that as I become, hopefully, the owner in a short period of time."
********** Published: August 11, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 17