Although there is a remote chance the deal could fall through because of political obstacles in Connecticut, the Hurricanes are expected to begin play in Raleigh's new $120-million arena by the 1999-2000 season.
"This isn't a new phenomenon," team owner Peter Karmanos said. "This isn't some kind of new-age owners' greed thing. This is the economic facts of life, and they have been going on in sport for a long, long time."
Karmanos said it's still unclear whether the team would move to a temporary home in the 21,500-seat Greensboro Coliseum this year or next season before going to Raleigh.
"It's going to do great things for this area," North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said. "It puts us on the map. It gives us a whole new dimension in the area of sports."
Karmanos, who purchased the Whalers in 1994 for $47.5 million, lost a reported $15 million on the team last year. His search for a new site began more than a month ago. The search was narrowed to Raleigh and Columbus, Ohio, before the North Carolina capital emerged the clear favorite a week ago.
The Hurricanes' immediate future hinges on Connecticut politics. The Connecticut Development Authority plans to vote on a $20.5-million exit agreement by the end of the week, Gov. John Rowland said Tuesday.
House Speaker Tom Ritter has been crusading to get the fee doubled, but Rowland said he was confident the negotiated amount would be approved.
Earlier Tuesday, the Centennial Authority, which oversees Raleigh's new arena, voted 11-1 on a memorandum of understanding with the NHL team over lease terms.
The agreement calls for a 20-year lease, with two five-year options. The team also would pay $3 million in rent minus about $250,000 a year in game-day operating costs for the first three years.