Abbotsford council eyes Heat bill

Councillors 'dismayed' over city having to cover the hockey team's $1.76 million shortfall.

Abbotsford councillors publicly reviewed the Abbotsford Heat’s $1.76 million shortfall on Monday night, with Coun. Henry Braun noting it is well above the budgeted deficit of $1.1 million.

“We’re headed in the wrong direction,” he said.

Under the city’s agreement with the AHL farm team for the Calgary Flames, the city guarantees the team $5.7 million per season in revenue, with any shortfall to be made up by taxpayers.

Braun said the city’s audit and finance committee needs to see a higher level of reporting from the Heat. This year’s deficit should not have taken council by surprise.

“This just dismays me,” said Coun. John Smith, who regularly attends games and called it “awesome hockey.”

He said last Thursday night’s game against the Toronto Marlies saw a crowd of just 1,950 people.

“ ‘Good grief!’ is what I said to my wife as I looked at a three-quarters empty stadium. This is sad.”

Gaming revenue from Chances Abbotsford will cover approximately $900,000 of the shortfall, but Smith said those are funds that would be better spent in other areas.

Mayor Bruce Banman agreed the hockey is great, but said there is work to be done on the “guest experience.” He suggest tarps for patrons waiting in the rain, friendlier service, and improvement in the quality and delivery of concession food and beverages.

“I said as mayor this would be my toughest challenge – to make this thing break even,” said Banman. “There is no professional hockey other than us right now. We need to stop being negative and start being leaders.”

Comparing fan support from other cities, Coun. Dave Loewen observed that there will be busloads of fans arriving from Edmonton coming to see the Oilers farm team, the Oklahoma City Barons, play in Abbotsford this weekend.

Asked what he hopes the finance and audit committee can accomplish, Braun answered that some activities at the AESC have done well – such as the Cirque du Soleil shows – while others have obviously lost money.

“I want to have a look at it,” said Braun.

“This is what you would do in business.”

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