A group headed by former NHL coach and broadcaster Gary Green has been chosen as the city’s preferred potential partner in the proposed new $106.1-million event centre.
Green, who made the announcement with city officials Tuesday at city hall, outlined a plan that would see the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets shift their American Hockey League franchise from St. John’s, N.L. to Thunder Bay.
The deal would also include a partnership with Lakehead University that would ensure the survival of the Thunderwolves men’s hockey program.
City officials said they’ve signed a non-binding letter of intent with Thunder Bay Live, the consortium put together by Green that includes Stadium Consultants International, Global Spectrum Facility Management, True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., Lakehead University, PCL Constructors Canada Inc. and BBB Architects Toronto Inc.
Green, first introduced to Thunder Bay by the late Jim Johnson a decade ago, said the proposed 5,600-seat event centre, set to enter Phase 3 of its development, is more than just a one-sport building. It would also include 50,000 square feet of convention space.
“These are not just hockey facilities anymore. They are very much multi-purpose sports and entertainment and cultural centres and this is going to have all of them, provided the city goes forward with the last implements of the process,” Green said.
“It will be a great conference centre as well that will create some great impact to the city.”
He said it was too early in the process to determine whether or not Thunder Bay Live would contribute to the construction costs of the event centre, which would replace the aging Fort William Gardens if built. But he promised the group was in it for the long haul.
Earlier in the process the city identified the downtown north core as the preferred location, a controversial move that had supporters of a more centralized site up in arms.
True North CEO Mark Chipman was not on hand for the announcement, but the company made it clear in a release the plan is to bring the AHL to the city if the arena moves forward.
“True North Sports and Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club are excited about the prospect of operating our American Hockey League franchise in Thunder Bay. We are well aware of the community’s rich hockey tradition and are confident that Thunder Bay would be a great location to develop our future prospects.”
City manager Tim Commisso said it wasn’t easy narrowing down the five bids the city received when it put out a request for expressions of interest last year.
It came down to experience.
“The reality of it is it’s not just hockey, but that’s an important component of it. To have two anchor tenants, and have those two anchor tenants working in partnership is really important,” Commisso said. “That could potentially provide 60 to 70 dates for the facility, in addition to all of the concerts and conventions and all of that.”
He added two affordable brands of hockey would be a good thing for Thunder Bay. He estimated Thunderwolves tickets average about $12 apiece, with AHL tickets going for between $20 and $25.
Mayor Keith Hobbs couldn't contain his smile, though cautioned nothing is set in stone. The provincial and federal governments must come through with a portion of the expected cost or the project is likely dead in the frozen water.
"It is not complete and I've said all along that we have to do our homework. This is a piece off that assignment. But it's a very important piece and a very exciting piece," Hobbs said. "When you look at the calibre of the people we are dealing with -- the Winnipeg Jets farm team ... is huge for our city. It's huge for our country, actually, and to bring along the Lakehead Thunderwolves with it, it really does my heart good."