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Adelphia Brass Bound for Denver

Adelphia Communications Inc. severed more ties to its founding Rigas family last week when it said it will move its headquarters from Coudersport, Pa. — where John Rigas co-founded the company 50 years ago — to Denver.

The move was expected, given that Adelphia plans to hire former AT&T Broadband executives William Schleyer and Ron Cooper as its chairman and CEO and president and COO, respectively. Schleyer and Cooper were based in Denver when they ran AT&T Broadband, before it merged with Comcast Corp. last November.

The move — and the hiring of Schleyer and Cooper — must still be approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Adelphia has not yet submitted the move proposal to the court, but said if the necessary approvals are obtained, it expects to complete the relocation by midyear.

The transfer involves only about 150 of more than 1,400 Adelphia employees in Coudersport. Yet some long-time residents can't help but wonder if it signals the beginning of the end of Adelphia's presence.

Homes for sale

Jackie Hartman of Hartman Realty Inc. in Coudersport said many residents wonder if Adelphia's new management will eventually phase out the local operation.

"Yes, they're telling us this today, but what are they going to tell us next year?" she asked.

Already, one Adelphia employee backed out of a deal to purchase a two-bedroom log home because, Hartman said she was told, "I may be moving to Colorado."

Several doctors might leave town and have already put their homes up for sale, the real-estate agent said.

But local businessman Jimmie Bruzzi was a little less pessimistic. The owner of Bruzzi Cleaners said even some of the high-priced employees who'll move didn't spend much in town anyway.

"They probably buy their necessities here — milk, gas and food staples — but the bulk of their shopping is in nearby malls in Buffalo, Elmira and Olean," all in New York.

"People sort of knew it was coming, but it hasn't sunk in much," Bruzzi added. "I think the hardest hit is Mr. Rigas himself. He built this company from scratch."

A long saga

John Rigas, a native of Wellsville, N.Y., came to Coudersport in 1951, after buying a small movie theater in town. In 1952 he and his brother, Gus, who is no longer with the company, bought their first cable franchise for $300.

Over the next 50 years, John Rigas built the company into the No. 5 U.S. MSO, with 5.4 million subscribers.

That all began to unravel last year, after John Rigas and his sons Timothy and Michael were indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of bilking the company out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Rigases, who deny the charges, are expected to go on trial next year.

No further relocations are anticipated, Adelphia spokesman Eric Andrus said. He pointed to the company's plan to hire an additional 70 workers at its Advanced Products Customer Care center as an example of its commitment to Coudersport.

Denver's edges

"The company has a strong commitment to Coudersport," Andrus said. "It's a terrific low-cost location and the employees there are doing very good work. The vast majority of them will remain right where they are, doing the jobs they are doing."

In addition to its status as a transportation hub that's far more accessible than rural Coudersport, Denver has a large pool of available cable management, since AT&T Broadband laid off about 1,700 workers after its merger with Philadelphia-based Comcast.

Adelphia called the move essential to its continued rebuilding. The MSO filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June.

Along with the Advanced Products Customer Care center, several operational groups slated to remain Coudersport are the National Inbound Sales center; outbound calling services; the Internet-protocol data center; facilities management; and certain information technologies, legal and regulatory activities, human resources, engineering, accounting and finance operations, Adelphia said.