Bruce Banman speaks at a press conference at Abbotsford Centre.

Bruce Banman speaks at a press conference at Abbotsford Centre.

City still looking for new Abbotsford Centre tenant

Mayor says interest has been shown in arena, as Abbotsford Centre introduces new general manager.

Mayor Bruce Banman says the city has taken calls regarding the availability of Abbotsford Centre, but that it needs to be careful before signing up a new major tenant.

Banman was at the former home of the Abbotsford Heat Wednesday morning to introduce the centre’s new general manager, Andrew Nash, and announce that the arena will see more use from minor hockey and other community groups.

He also said the city continues to pursue a tenant to replace the American Hockey League’s Heat.

“The phone has been ringing,” Banman told The News. “The hockey world is a rather small world and people know that the building is there.”

He added that hockey organizations are reluctant to suggest they are seeking a new home prior to the end of the season.

In April, the city announced that it would  pay the Calgary Flames, who owned the Heat, $5.5 million to end a 10-year agreement halfway through the deal. The contract guaranteed the Heat a break-even annual budget of $5.7 million, and over the first four years, taxpayers had paid $5.24 million to cover the team’s financial shortfalls. The cost from the last season has not yet been made public.

In addition to the Heat’s shortfalls, Abbotsford Centre has run an annual deficit of about $2 million.

In April, the city also announced a new name and business strategy for the facility. Six months later, the city stressed progress on efforts to introduce more community programming. Banman also said operator Global Spectrum had volunteered to make changes to its contract to “find efficiencies and find ways to further reduce the burden on taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, the search for a major tenant continues.

“We are currently looking for the right anchor tenant for this facility,” Banman said.

“What we’re not going to do is become desperate and just make a deal for the sake of having someone in here.”

On Wednesday, the stress was on Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association’s (AMHA) increased use of the arena.

During the Heat’s time in the building, the centre had been available on a very limited basis to groups like the AMHA.

Nash – who comes to the Abbotsford Centre having previously worked in arenas in Dawson Creek, Kitchener, Ont., and Mississauga, Ont. – said the increased use of the arena by local groups mirrors brings the facility into line with arenas in other markets.

“This was one of the first facilities that I’ve been at that hasn’t had that blend of community usage,” he said. “It’s a balance and a model that is quite common.”

AMHA president Trevor Bamford said the organization has had to cap registration in certain divisions because of a lack of ice time.

Now, with the Heat’s departure, the availability of ice time will expand from three or four hours a week, to more than 20, Bamford said. That will allow the AMHA to increase the number of developmental sessions it offers, and there are plans to move its offices and equipment to the arena.

Ice time, he said, “is the one commodity in every city that’s scarce. But not in Abbotsford now.”

There is also hope that more community use of the facility will increase the sense of ownership among Abbotsford residents.

“When little kids and their parents come here, they’ll say, ‘This is our rink,’” Bamford said.