BY MARK MacDONALD
If Nanaimo residents vote ‘yes’ in the March 11 events centre referendum, then a Western Hockey League team is expected to be a major tenant in the new facility.
Having a WHL team based in Nanaimo and the roughly 40 games it would play here (including, hopefully, playoffs) represents a major contribution in terms of rental income for the facility. Although the events centre is obviously much more than a hockey rink, having that many bookings from a team in a league the calibre of the WHL is good news indeed.
Because this is a business deal, and there has been much work done behind the scenes in terms of which team could come to Nanaimo, WHL president Ron Robison has committed to either an existing team or an expansion club coming here. There are apparently two tentative deals and ownership groups in the mix for an existing franchise contingent on moving to Nanaimo and playing at undersized Frank Crane Arena until the events centre is completed.
The owners are expected to sign a 20-year lease for Nanaimo.
It is rumoured that the teams which could possibly come to Nanaimo are the Kootenay Ice, based in Cranbrook, or the Swift Current Broncos from Saskatchewan.
There will not be an events centre in Nanaimo if the WHL doesn’t move a team here. That is essential. And if the events centre referendum does not pass, then the WHL won’t come to Nanaimo, either. Frank Crane Arena is simply not an acceptable long-term arena for a WHL team, both in terms of spectator capacity and amenities.
Nanaimo’s events centre won’t be subsidizing any WHL team that comes here, just as the city hasn’t subsidized the Nanaimo Clippers of the B.C. Hockey League or the Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. They are all expected to pay market rates for rental of the facilities, which is fair.
Besides being a major anchor tenant, the WHL brings an exciting brand of hockey featuring many of the top under-20 players in the country. With several high-end prospects on each team, it’s a chance to watch the possible NHL stars of tomorrow on a regular basis, honing their skills in one of the top major junior leagues in Canada.
Mark MacDonald is a member of the Vote Yes Committee.