THUNDER BAY -- Tom Warden maintains the Lakehead Thunderwolves still want to be the main tenant should the city go ahead with a proposed $106-million multiplex.
According to a study released Wednesday by consultants hired by the city, having an American Hockey League or Ontario Hockey League team as the arena’s anchor tenant would result in an operating loss of $307,900 a year.
The Thunderwolves hockey team, buoyed by basketball and other events, would cost the taxpayers $513,800 a year in operating losses.
Study authors CEI Architecture said both situations would cost taxpayers less than the $600,000 in losses incurred by Fort William Gardens, the current home of Lakehead hockey.
The multiplex would lose $1.19 million a year with the AHL/OHL model, while it has a projected shortfall of $1.4 million with the Thunderwolves in the lead spot.
Warden, who hadn’t fully studied the report, praised the multiplex proposal as a positive step forward for the community.
“We’ll just have to see how this plays out,” Warden said. “But I think it’s a very positive thing that the city is moving forward with this feasibility study and certainly with the arena and the convention centre.”
He added all three locations that were shortlisted – the downtown north core site that is being recommended to council, lands near the Thunder Bay International airport and the runner-up, Innova Park – had their merits.
He has no qualms about the downtown location.
“If it were to go downtown it would provide a lot of positive economic development opportunities for that area. So that of all of them looked like one of the better ones to me,” Warden said.
“But with that said, I think there were a lot of positives for a lot of the other locations as well.”
The report does suggest the design of the 5,700-seat building, if approved by council, will be slightly different depending on who the lead tenant at construction time.
An AHL or OHL team would include 24 private suites, while a Lakehead Thunderwolves team would require 12 private suites. Both scenarios would include up to 700 club seats.
Warden says the university has been involved in the multiplex process from the beginning.
He also said it’s premature to say whether or not the Thunderwolves team, a privately-owned, non-profit organization, could survive if the AHL or OHL came to town.
Anthony LeBlanc and Keith McCullough of Ice Edge Holdings Inc. have repeatedly said if the city builds a new hockey arena they are prepared to bring professional hockey back to Thunder Bay.
“I think it’s a bit early to get into that,” Warden said. “We don’t know. I think we’ll have to have a look at what the challenges are, what the opportunities are, before we can make a statement like that.”
Thunderwolves board president Rory Cava also weighed in, stating he thinks the Thunderwolves are doable as the main tenant.
“I think we’ve worked hard to try to provide them with the nights they need, not just with Thunderwolves hockey, but with Lakehead University as a whole,” he said, adding he’s in favour of the waterfront location.
“I think we’ve done our part and I think we’re ready to be a main tenant with Lakehead University backing us up.”