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2009-07-25 at 22:07

LeBlanc serious about AHL in Thunder Bay

By Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch staff
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Anthony LeBlanc desperately wants to bring professional hockey to Thunder Bay. But first there’s the little matter of purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes.

LeBlanc, 39, a former executive with Research in Motion, said on Sunday that should his $150-million bid to buy the struggling NHL franchise be successful, he would then take a serious look at ending the club’s affiliation agreement with the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage, then consider buying an existing team available on the open market and move them to his hometown.

The Rampage’s affiliation agreement with the Coyotes is scheduled to end following the 2010-11 campaign.

The deal would hinge on whether or not Thunder Bay had concrete plans for a new arena in place.

“We need some pretty serious help from Thunder Bay, because we need a new building. This would not be something we would be interested in doing without a commitment and ultimately shovels in the ground for a new facility,” LeBlanc said in an exclusive phone interview with Thunder Bay Source from his Ottawa home.

LeBlanc, who left Thunder Bay in 1993 and RIM last year, still maintains close ties with the community and met with city manager Tim Commisso a couple of weeks ago to gauge the municipality’s reception to the idea.

“I would say the reception was quite warm,” LeBlanc said, noting that aging Fort William Gardens, a 3,700 seat facility built in the 1950s, probably needed to be replaced a decade-and-a-half ago.
Estimates have previously placed the cost of a new facility in the $40 million to $50 million range.

LeBlanc, who has been working for the past couple of years trying to bring an Ontario Hockey League team to Thunder Bay, is partnering with fellow Lakehead native Keith McCullough and his Research Edge partner Daryl Jones through Ice Edge Holdings, a company the trio formed to investigate potential investment opportunities.  

He pointed to Abbotsford, B.C. as a working model of how an AHL team could work in Thunder Bay.

“They’ve just built this beautiful … 7,000-seat facility in Abbotsford, which is obviously a suburb of Vancouver, but the demographics and the population of Abbotsford are kind of similar to Thunder Bay and they’re getting their new AHL franchise this year that’s affiliated with Calgary,” LeBlanc said.

Part of the bid to buy the Coyotes includes managing Arena, a partnership Ice Edge Holdings would also seek in Thunder Bay.
The opportunity to buy the Coyotes came unexpectedly. LeBlanc's former boss, RIM co-chief executive Jim Balsillie had submitted a $212.5-million offer to buy the franchise, openly stating his intentions to move the team to Hamilton, a move LeBlanc applauded at the time, joining the Make it Seven club Balsillie formed to show support for his plan.  

NHL officials rebuked Balsillie's idea, but Phoenix owner Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to get around the league’s objection and force the courts to accept Balsillie’s offer.

Instead an Arizona bankruptcy judge, Redfield T. Baum, decided an Aug. 5 auction for potential owners willing to keep the team in Phoenix would be staged. Only LeBlanc and Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, submitted bids. Reinsdorf’s bid came in at $148 million. If neither bid is accepted, Balsillie and other potential owners looking to move the club could be afforded back into the mix in September.

LeBlanc said he and his partners hadn’t thought of a professional sports team as a potential moneymaker, but after meeting with Coyotes part-owner Wayne Gretzky and going over the books, they decided there was a good business case to keep the team in the Arizona capital and be successful.

“What we found was what I like to refer to as a business case of how not to run a business,” LeBlanc said. “This was perhaps the most poorly run business I have seen in my experience and my partners feel the same way.

“We’re looking at this opportunity as taking an under-utilized asset and turning it into something that could be relatively powerful.”

The Coyotes, he continued, will benefit from an improved economy in Phoenix, where housing prices have hit rock bottom and people, mostly northerners with cultural ties to hockey, are gobbling them up.
It also doesn’t hurt, LeBlanc said, that the team, which hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs in 22 years and hasn’t even made the post-season since 2002, is “ready to take off,” on the ice and become a contender.

Ice Edge Holding officials also met with league executives, who gave them the go-ahead to submit a bid.

City staffers could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday. LeBlanc said he would know within a month if his AHL plan for Thunder Bay was feasible.
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advocate says:
I WOULD LOVE IT! But I would also love it if there was a Santa Claus. Not going to happen. We just do not have the population in the city or region to do it. Sorry :(
7/25/2009 10:14:33 PM
elvis2010 says:
Thunder Bay couldn't support the Thunder Cats, this city has too many whiners, it will never be able to support an OHL team let alone an AHL team that has to pay player salaries. Why do these stories even get reported? So people have something to talk about at Robins?
7/26/2009 9:30:34 AM
advocate says:
elvis, one of the big things with the Thunder Cats too was the travel costs, which the team had to pay for. The travel costs for the Thunderwolves is paid for by the league. With the remoteness, it was really expensive. Now, with a new 5,000 seat arena, yes the team may be more financially feasible, but still not feasible enough for the AHL. I can probably name you 20 cities more feasible than Thunder Bay. You go to Southern Ontario and the cities are close enough together to support it.
7/26/2009 2:11:20 PM
Pawn says:
I'm bet if he talked to the city council, they would incorporate this into the marina. Only 50 Mil and it's not their money soooooooo... sounds like a go.

7/26/2009 4:38:40 PM
Gabbyhayes says:
As much as I like the idea of having a professional or OHA Jr team here. I am afraid the cost of putting up a suitable rink with a 7-10 thousand seat capacity would be substantial.In no way should the city go it alone on financing such a facility.This requires the private sector to step up to the plate.The city can help, both financially and other ways much similar to the partnership arrangements on the Prince Arthur's landing project, but this is a sport business and the responsibility lies with them to come up with the vast majority of the financing required to get this off the ground and that includes the building of a arena.Frankly my priority would be a Convention Centre, preferably located in the downtown north core area which would be a big draw for Political Parties major organizations such as the Kinsmen,Shriner's Rotarian's ect and other groups who hold major conventions. Our location in the middle of the country makes it a natural for such a facility. But in any case the taxpayers of Thunder Bay should NOT be expected to be the major contributor of their tax dollars to build either a rink or convention centre.The Convention Center would be more likely to attract Fed and Provincial Funding and other private sector Investment such as a hotel or hotels as a example on our revamped waterfront or in close proximity to the water front?
7/26/2009 6:00:49 PM
tbayg says:
Disregarding any financial issues, this arena would be unbelievable beside the lake if it was to be incorporated into the new waterfront plan if done correctly!
7/26/2009 7:53:57 PM
elvis2010 says:
Gabbyhayes, I am just making a wild guess but I bet you live in "Port Arthur" right? Would that be why the convention centre should be built in "Port Arthur"? When are people gonna realize they live in "Thunder Bay" and not Fort William or Port Arthur. This fighting over where things should be built has to stop(I know you are not fighting but it will happen if there ever is a convention built here). Just like when it was announced that the new court house would be built in the Victoriaville area you had all the people whining in P.A. that it should be built there. If anything they should build all new buildings in the city center known as Intercity and spread from there. If you want to take a look at where things have been built though when was the last time something was built in the "south core"? The auditorium, the casino (you can have it), the money pit that will be known as the waterfront, magnus theater were all built in P.A., all that has ever been built in F.W. was Victoriaville and look how long ago that was and what that has brought us. City hall and the gardens have survived since the twin city days but I bet a new arena would be built up in P.A. too.
7/26/2009 9:19:16 PM
advocate says:
I got dislikes over my comments about the cost of travel? Odd... Anyway, one thing we do have to realize that the Gardens is not going to hold up much longer. It is in really rough shape and the cost of renovations is not really the cheapest way at going at it. We will need to replace it eventually.
7/26/2009 11:42:49 PM
baybrewer says:
elvis2010: And thats how the PA/FW debate starts, when some one accuses someone of living where they want something built. At least Gabbyhayes said "down town north core" so to me this isnt the PA vs FW debate. Pushing money aside, I do think the north side of town would be the place to put a new facility. It ties into the Marina project and that area at least has resturants and bars close by. You go to a hockey game now, and there is basically no where in the area to go before or after the game. That to me is enough to locate the facilty on the North Side, again baring money.
7/27/2009 8:17:35 AM
karcat says:
If You Want A AHL Team In Thunder Bay You Have To Have Arena That Holds Over 10.000 People ,
That Is The Only Way This Town Will Get A Team, But Then How Many Times Will The Bldg Be
Full? Apparently Thats The Rules From The AHL, Question Is ? Will This City & People Support
It Contiually , ty
7/27/2009 8:44:58 AM
TundraBay says:
....and with these types of attitudes, you wonder why Thunder Bay is still stuck in the 1950's. Sorry for the interruption, you may now commence with your big day out at Walmart.
7/27/2009 8:54:04 AM
elvis2010 says:
baybrewer, that is why, if there ever is a new rink built, it should be built in the intercity area. With all the restaurants in the area people would be able to make a night of it for hockey games. I wouldn't hold my breath on a new rink or convention centre, something this city would truly benefit from cause they are wasting all the money on the money pits waterfront and city hall. Look at all the people those 2 project alone will bring into the city!!!! Thunder Bay is stuck in the era of the old fort so I guess we should just keep using the great hall to hold our conventions.
7/27/2009 9:14:25 AM
elvis2010 says:
Also, I think this LeBlanc character must be smoking something he ordered from Tommy Chong. Either that or he just wants to make a name for himself. Thunder Bay will never get or be able to support either and OHL or AHL team, NEVER. It is one thing to build a 10,000 seat arena but what would be the point if it will never be filled. The only thing that would fill a 10,000 seat arena in Thunder Bay would be an ACDC concert! Sorry, but keep smoking whatever it is you are smoking if you think we will get into either of those leagues, ain't gonna happen. Just for starters the OHL has been trying to get rid of the Sault Greyhounds for years, to far to travel. The only thing that has saved that franchise is I believe it is city owned, why would they travel another 8 hours to play here?
7/27/2009 9:19:12 AM
Satellite photos of Thunder Bay show a major part of why this city faces the severe development issues it does. It looks like a giant yardsale! There's stuff everywhere, and theres no order or grand design. The intercity area was developed with the idea of just putting a new road here, or here, or here. Dead ends, curves that make no sense, and through streets thrown in as band aid solutions at best. There's never been a big plan, and nobody to execute it. In order to progress as one city, the north and south cores must die a slow and painful death. This is why the core argument rages on. It will take at least another century to become a centralized city.. This is also why a hockey arena located any where other than intercity will be a disaster...its also why the casino, marina park, and victoriaville/keskus have been failures. For comparisson sakes, check out a blue collar, industrial city like Detroit.. although failing terribly now, its laid out in an appropriate manner. Central downtown, on the waterfront, with roads (Woodward and Gratiot) spanning out to the NE and NW. It has geographical order. Thunder Bay does not. Anyway... hockey is the subject.. I dont care what happens, but I dont want the city to pay for anything. The team can pay for an arena. They can buy the property and take on construction.. Thats the only way it would work. You may not like it, but its the way it is. Big business is required to run a real hockey team, and big business is something Thunder Bay has done everything possible to push away.
7/27/2009 9:51:13 AM
Gabbyhayes says:
No Elvis Your wild guess was jut that, a wild guess that was very incorrect.In fact I live in the South Ward.I consider my self a Thunder Bayite.I am a strong proponet of the Prince Arthur'Landing project. A convention centre would fit in nicely with the development of OUR waterfront and the two hotels located. one proposed on the waterfront and the other the Prince Arthur a stones throw away.The Centre would not likely be located directly on the waterfront but in the area.Perhaps taking up a block in the current business section in the North side(this could be done as a last resort through appropriating private property)Again I repeat Financed for the most part by PRIVATE SECTOR MONEY and a municipal partnership with the Federal and Provincial governments.for funding for the cities share re property preparation and other services which would be borne by the city.
7/27/2009 11:06:44 AM
twolfster says:
Interesting to see Mr. Leblanc is interested in growing hockey in Thunder Bay. However, I don't think an AHL team would go here due to the small population and Thunder Bay's proven history of only supporting winning teams. An OHL team is also very problematic for so many reasons. What I would like to see is Mr. Leblanc get together with Lakehead University and the City of Thunder Bay; build a nice new 6-7000 seat arena and get the Thunderwolves into the NCAA; preferably the WCHA. That is the logical fit for top level hockey in Thunder Bay; however, unfortunately logic doesn't always seem to fit in our fair city does it? :)
7/27/2009 11:25:33 AM
t tunder says:
Twolfster, I really like your idea of getting the twolves into the ncaa. That would be the best option and it can grow from there. I don't think that Mr. Leblanc would be interested in adjoining with LU on this one though as he seems to have his heart set on owning his own team no matter what. Seems like he would call the team the Thunder Bay Leblancs or something. I like how he is jumpstarting the debate of a new arena but logically LU should help build this new arena (preferrably central or waterfront located) and success will flow downhill from there.
7/27/2009 12:03:06 PM
observer says:
Sure why not add more to my bill. The marina, new city hall, new hockey arena. What the heck, just keep adding on the taxes!!!!!!!!!!
7/27/2009 12:19:45 PM
canuckman55 says:
I think the comments on this page pretty much show that we couldn't support an AHL team, because we are defeated before we even start. This city has some of the most cynical citizens I have ever met. Being a realist is fine, but there is no realism in shooting down a project before that project even exists as a possibility. Optimism and enthusiasm is a huge part of what builds successful communities.
7/27/2009 12:52:08 PM
advocate says:
observer, you may not like it, but the Fort William Gardens is not going to last longer and a town like ours would loose out a lot if we lost our main arena.
7/27/2009 2:00:07 PM
t tunder says:
Twolfster, I really like your idea of getting the twolves into the ncaa. That would be the best option and it can grow from there. I don't think that Mr. Leblanc would be interested in adjoining with LU on this one though as he seems to have his heart set on owning his own team no matter what. Seems like he would call the team the Thunder Bay Leblancs or something. I like how he is jumpstarting the debate of a new arena but logically LU should help build this new arena (preferrably central or waterfront located) and success will flow downhill from there.
7/27/2009 2:21:32 PM
tannharr says:
I really don't know why people complain about taxes going up. I pay property taxes, and they just went up $100 this year. Big whoop. If that means more money for road maintenance, or a new, fully developed marina, or even a new hockey rink, raise my taxes by $500, I'll pay for it!!! People don't realize that housing in Thunder Bay is the most affordable out of any Canadian city our size. So less on your mortgage, more in your taxes. Suck it up, stop complaining. Or you can keep complaining that the city isn't fixing our roads, maintaining our parks and public buildings, or fixing up Fort William Gardens!
7/27/2009 2:22:56 PM
tannharr says:
And people wonder why our city isn't as prosperous as it should be? Lots of Thunder Bay citizens don't allow outsie investment into our community, and other investors see that and don't want to come here. Let's try embracing new things and new development instead of bashing it, and maybe we could get something big like an automotive plant or something similar!
7/27/2009 2:26:38 PM
jb says:
We don't need to fill a 10 000 seat arena to get an AHL team. 8 teams in the AHL average less than 4000 per game. Lowell's average was 2293 last year. The highest average attendance is Hershey with 8,987 and Manitoba in second with 7,769.

I think we have the fans who would like to support an AHL team but, in reality, I don't think we have enough fans willing to pay $20-$50 for a ticket. Not too many families can afford spending $100 for a night out these days.

7/27/2009 2:34:39 PM
tannharr says:
I think it's a shame what peoples priorities are these days. Someone would rather spend $50 a week a cigarettes than spending the same to take their kids to a hockey game. But I do believe lots of people don't attend LU Thunderwolves game because it is not professional hockey. If we had pro hockey here, I really think more people would attend.
7/27/2009 3:31:17 PM
tannharr, if you want to pay more taxes, come and pay mine, then I'll keep my lips shut. Until then, expect me and others to complain about any increase in taxes or deficit spending, and the reduction in services. Just because you WANT to pay more, doesnt mean the rest of us do. This city has proven time and time again that the more money and power you give them, the worse they manage it. Thats why any new hockey arena should be paid for by those who use it or want to. SO, contact the developers, owners, and investors and tell them you will give them $500/year, and still pay for your own tickets. Does that sound logical?? It shouldnt. Then, go reread your comment.
7/27/2009 5:09:52 PM
tannharr says:
why would I pay your taxes? That's up to you to pay. But I totally agree it shouldn't be fully funded by the city, it needs to be private mixed with all three levels of government funding this project, just like the marina park. You are mixing my posts up from various different topics here GUTSHOT. Or, maybe I hit a sore spot. Do you happen to spend stupid money on cigarettes? You obviously don't spend it at the casino now do you?
7/27/2009 5:46:29 PM
tanharr: ....tannharr says:

"I really don't know why people complain about taxes going up. I pay property taxes, and they just went up $100 this year. Big whoop. If that means more money for road maintenance, or a new, fully developed marina, or even a new hockey rink, raise my taxes by $500, I'll pay for it!!!"............ I dont think Im mixing up your comments... I dont want any increase in my taxes, you on the other hand, do. As for not being funded by the city, ... who do you think gives the money to the federal and provincial governments?? Thats still our money! Like "The Beaver" says, "theres still only ONE taxpayer". PS, no sore spot, I dont drink, smoke, or gamble. Maybe thats why Im grumpy? Im not distracted by those habits so I can see just how much money the gov and stupid city decisions try to take.
7/27/2009 11:15:26 PM
tsb says:
I think if a new arena/convention centre is built, it should go on Simpson Street between Leith and Cumming. It could have a similar effect as the Casino on South Cumberland and Pearl, which used to be worse than Simpson is today. Thunder Bay will never be a unicentric city. It is polycentric--a city made up of cities. Instead of lumping everything in one area and leaving others to die, we have to look at mixing uses around the city. And the "people can enjoy a night at the game and a restaurant if it is in Intercity" argument doesn't cut it. In Intercity, you have to drive to everything. If the arena is built on Simpson and revitalizes Simpson-Victoria like the Casino did Cumberland-Pearl, people really will be able to make an evening of it. Leave the Pool Six land for the Lake Superior Place development. That has a real chance at happening and shouldn't be jeopardized. And Gutshot, have you considered moving to Ware Township? It's unincorporated! Less tax, and no city council to waste your money! You'll love it.
7/28/2009 6:13:36 AM
Just buy a car already tsb!
7/28/2009 5:36:37 PM
tsb says:
I'll buy a car if you move to Dog Lake.
7/28/2009 10:02:52 PM
The Beaver... says:
You know folks I read with amazement all the bantering that goes on in and con this and that...The fact that is so painfully overlooked is that the Taxpayer is broke.It matters not what we want it only matters what we can afford.At the moment that is "NOTHING" The well paid people at City Hall don't know or don't want to know how people are struggling,and how over burdened most are with bills and expenses.Its the eroding of the household income that's really the point here. With all the charges and ever-increasing cost....Heath, Food, Insurance, and of course taxes... there is very little left for Entertainment.That does not only apply to Thunder Bay.Its a fact all over.Responsible City Government owes it to the Taxpayer to be prudent,and reduce its cost of operating and start to run like a Private Enterprise.If that does not happen...and I mean now..we are all in it for a rough ride.
7/29/2009 8:57:21 AM
Corby says:
Let's face it. We love our sports here in Thunder Bay but we don't support anything. How many teams have come and gone?
7/29/2009 7:50:39 PM
tannharr says:
Corby, the Senators ended not due to lack of support, but because Ottawa Senators decided to move their farm team. The Thunder Cats just couldn't be what the Senators were. If we can be a farm team for an NHL team, I really think you'll see support.
7/30/2009 9:19:03 AM
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