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McLane, who made his fortune running the family’s wholesale grocery business, has been considering selling the team for at least two years.

He turned down an offer from Crane in October 2008 and was approached by an investment group a year later. McLane gave the group an exclusive 30-day negotiating window to make him an offer, but no deal ever materialized.

McLane said his decision to finally fully commit to selling the team was based mostly on family considerations.

“We’re just firing the pistol today,” he said. “We had gone along for 18 years, and how our family needs to look at it, we just need to do stronger strategic financial planning for the future.”

McLane emphasized Friday that he’s in no rush to sell the team. He said the process could take “three months or three or four years.” Greenberg said the normal timeline for such a deal runs about six to 12 months.

McLane is a fixture at Astros home games, sitting in the front row behind home plate. The franchise, which will play its 50th season in 2011, has reached unprecedented success with McLane as the owner, making the playoffs six times in the last 14 years.

The Astros won the NL Central in 1997, ‘98, ‘99 and 2001 and earned wild-card berths in 2004 and ‘05. But Houston has finished with a losing record in three of the past four seasons, and attendance has dwindled as the team has moved forward after the departure of its most recognizable stars.

Team icons Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were both gone by the 2008 season, and Houston traded pitching ace Roy Oswalt and five-time All-Star Lance Berkman in 2010.

Houston ranked 16th in home attendance in 2010, averaging 28,783 fans. The Astros drew an average home crowd of 37,318 in 2006.

McLane painted a positive outlook for the future, though, starting with the team’s young nucleus of talent. He also mentioned the team’s charitable contributions to the Houston community and the franchise’s expanded presence in the Dominican Republic.

McLane said the sale won’t affect the team’s operations, particularly on the major league side.

“It’s going to be business as usual,” McLane said. “This has certainly been in the back of my mind and Elizabeth’s mind. So we’re continuing to run the team. It will be full-speed ahead.”