I thought it would be appropriate for me to re-post my thoughts on a new entertainment complex. I wrote this last year and I think it still rings true today. Here it is in its entirety:
IN SUPPORT OF A NEW ENTERTAINMENT FACILITY FOR THE NIAGARA REGION
January 20th, 2011 @ 4:30pm
On the corner of Geneva Street and Gale Crescent sits a vintage arena full of charm and memories that pre-date World War 2. The Gatorade Garden City Complex, formerly the Jack Gatecliffe Arena has a capacity of 3145 when it is filled, a lively atmosphere that is the envy of many teams and and drew high praise from the entourage of the Swedish World Junior Team who trained there for the recent Under 20 World Championships.
With all due respect to our Scandinavian brethren and the rabid atmosphere, the flip side is a different story, The arena was constructed in 1938, the same year that Hitler won Time Man of the Year and began his march on Czechoslovakia. It has limited, almost non-existent parking and much of the available parking features a brisk walk and the crossing of a major intersection. Once inside the arena, the dance of choice is “The Shuffle” due to the lack of space to walk around the arena and if I were a chiropractor, I'd set up an on-site business due to seating more suited for those who are vertically challenged. Niagara Ice Dog fans are the best in the league simply due to the fact that they still attend games in droves with nary a complaint. Though, I hardily think that this arena was the long-term vision of owners Bill and Denise Burke when they moved the team from Mississauga before the 2007-2008 season.
Simply put the time for a new facility is now and the possibilities for a new facility are endless. Firstly, one misconception has to be addressed in order to get the non-hockey fans on board. This really should be a proposal for an entertainment facility not a hockey arena. With that small change, you expand the focus not only to different sports but to many other forms of entertainment and thus appeal to a wider spectrum of the population. The basics of economics dictate that an arena is only as good and as profitable as the events that put backsides in the seats (and I stress seats, not two seat benches). The pot of gold at the end of this rainbow is the addition of corporate or luxury boxes, a must for any new facility, even those in the mid-range in terms of seating capacity.
Ice Dog owner Bill Burke sees a wealth of potential with a new facility
“Along with the new Arts Center, St. Catharines will become the entertainment district of Niagara. Think of the people that will be flocking to downtown virtually every night.”
TV Cogeco on-air personality,a long-time Welland resident and business owner Ed Burkholder concurs
“Socially, its' what Niagara needs. It gives Niagara people something in common collectively.”
So lets put together a more than reasonable list of non-hockey events. Concerts, trade-shows, pro-wrestling are all very realistic non sports events that could conceivably make St. Catharines a regular stop. Brock University and Niagara College could move certain special attractions to a new facility and could bid for OUA (Ontario University Athletics) and OCAA (Ontario College Athletics Association) provincial events and CIS (Canadian Inter-university Sport) and CCA (Canadian College Athletic Association) events.. Minor hockey tournaments would be an attraction., keeping the arena humming and bustling
You know what means? It means area hotels being used, products being purchased , restaurants and sports bars being eaten in and jobs being created. In short a trickle down effect, and an increase in ancillary revenue in the region. Ever see a hotel on the weekend of a minor hockey tournament? Its a beehive of activity, and that sound you hear? That's the sound of cash registers ringing, and debit and credit cards swiping.. All of this is before consideration of the anchor tenant, who are the Niagara Ice Dogs, good for 40 dates in the arena at an average of 3500-4000 fans a pop, and that estimate is conservative.
Economically speaking the numbers add up. Owner Bill Burke estimates that on top of the substantial investment that he and his wife Denise have in the Niagara Ice Dogs, that Ice Dog fans spend on average $7-10 dollars per game outside the arena. Do the rough math and that's nearly 1 million dollars spent per year in the St Catharines region. Think of that sort of revenue not being tapped into, and potentially being spent elsewhere.
Long-time Niagara resident and TV Cogeco producer Darren Sawyer says
“A lot of people travel across the boarder or to Hamilton or Toronto with their entertainment dollar. A new facility would keep that money in Niagara. “
Although informal polls suggest that there is good support for a new facility, there is however a backlash. Taxpayers don't want to see their bill go up, at the expense of a new facility because they are not hockey fans. They have already seen their money go to pay for The Seymour-Hannah Complex, a four pad arena, that has seating for 2000, but is not nearly large enough to accommodate an OHL tenant. .
Grumbles one reader in a letter to the St. Catharines Standard
“This is a major expenditure that will impact tax payers for decades”.
Adding to that recently news came forth that the federal government will not kick any money top help build the facility, which leaves municipal tax payers and private interests as the sole revenue streams in financing the facility.
To answer that the Region needs to leave no private enterprise stone unturned in their quest for offsetting the cost to tax payers. Though the arena will be located in St. Catharines, the Ice Dogs have always marketed themselves as a regional team. Tapping into private resources should follow that model. Looking at revenue streams and sponsorship in wine country should be a jumping off point. Selling the naming rights to the arena would provide more revenue.
The model of using the arena as a centrepiece to a vibrant downtown core is London. The John Labbatt Centre is perched majestically in the middle of an already bustling area and thrives on the ardent support the Knights generate from Londoners as well as the student population at the University of Western Ontario Restaurants, and other shopping destinations all benefit from an arena that houses a number of events, including OHL hockey and is the crown jewel not only of London, but the surrounding area. While London benefits from not having a lot of arena competition in the surrounding area, the comparison and the potential for St. Catharines is too hard to resist.
Should a new facility not be built, the Niagara region, not just St. Catharines could face the very real prospect of having the Ice Dogs leave town. Lost would not just be a hockey team, but an indelible and ingrained part of the Niagara region. Players and coaches visit schools, have hockey clinics holds open practices, become heroes and set positive examples in the community. The Gatorade Garden City Complex would remain, nothing would be revitalized, and many events that could generate revenue will go elsewhere.
It is time to build a new entertainment facility with the Ice Dogs as the anchor tenant. Its the right thing do do both socially and economically.
The last word on this should go to Ice Dogs owner Bill Burke:
“If city council votes no on a new spectator facility, then they are saying no to the Ice Dogs, so we will have to take the team and the two million dollars we spend in St. Catharines elsewhere”
You cannot put it more succinctly than that.