While the former NHL market has a long way to go before it actually lands another NHL team, Tuesday marked a big day for hockey fans in Quebec City. The Vancouver Sun reports that the Quebec City council approved an agreement that will make Quebecor the naming rights holder for the pending $400 million, NHL-friendly arena. It’s important to note that the actual arena deal still needs to go through, but this is still a promising sign for the bill’s loudest proponents.
Quebecor will reportedly pay for the naming rights for at least 25 years, with the option of adding on 15 years after that. As we noted in a previous post, the media company will pay $63.5 million during that 25-year period if the NHL returns and $33 million if that dream dies. Quebecor’s rent would be $4.5 million with the NHL and $2.5 million if the building goes without an NHL team.
The plan specifies that the arena would be built by 2015, while the Vancouver Sun reveals that the stated goal is to attract an NHL team by 2020.
The gang at Orland Kurtenblog took a look at the controversy caused by the taxpayer-fueled arena deal. On one hand, you have critics like Graeme Hamilton who worry that the arena would host very little beyond pee wee hockey if the NHL doesn’t come calling, despite what Mayor Regis Labeaume called a “win-win” deal.
Mr. Labeaume has no time for those who suggest the project might be beyond the means of a province that cannot even maintain its basic infrastructure. “Our city and its citizens deserve a facility worthy of a capital city,” he said Tuesday. He said geological testing at the proposed site will begin this fall, and the project’s final budget will be known by March. The target date for completion is September 2015.
With no guarantee that the NHL will return to a market it abandoned with the 1995 departure of the Nordiques, the project represents a significant risk. Four-hundred-million dollars would be a lot of money for two weeks of Pee-Wee hockey and some pop music concerts. But it seems that as long as the dream of an NHL returning to Quebec remains alive, no price is too steep.
Orland Kurtenblog counters that going without an NHL team might not necessarily be a death sentence for the new building.
Fair enough, and I’m the first to bristle at the thought of taxpayers subsidizing pro sports. But arenas can still pack ‘em in without a major-league sports tenant. In 2008, Winnipeg’s MTS Centre was the third-busiest facility in Canada. In 2010, Kansas City’s Sprint Centre was the third-busiest in the United States.
That’s not to say the only key to arena profitability is keeping the calendar full – you don’t want to be the liquidation store of arenas. “Yes, we do birthday parties.”
However, without an NHL team, a new building in Quebec City would host more than “two weeks of Pee-Wee hockey and some pop music concerts.”
That being said, many might judge such a high-risk investment as a failure if Quebec City cannot land an NHL team. It’ll be years – maybe even almost a decade – before we would be able to call say the proposed $400 million arena a blunder, with five years for the city to attract a team if the arena is built by 2015 as planned.
These are high stakes situations that are often controversial, especially when public money is being used (as it would be if everything goes through the system). A lot can change, but approving the naming rights deal is a big step in the right direction. That being said, they have a long road to travel before the Nordiques – or some other Quebec team with a different name – can return to the NHL.