With the hockey season nearing its end and no prospect of a new tenant for the Abbotsford Centre next year, Mayor Henry Braun continues to preach public patience.
Braun said the city has been reminding those involved “in various sports” that Abbotsford has a facility ready to welcome new tenants, but no deal is pending with two of the most-talked-about suitors – the American Hockey League (AHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL).
Last week, WHL commissioner Ron Robison told Cranbrook’s Daily Townsmen that the Kootenay Ice needed more community support over the next hockey season or else the league might have to move the franchise.
The Ice play in an 4,264-seat arena, but averaged only 2,239 fans during the 2014-15 season, despite icing a competitive team that made the playoffs.
Braun said city manager George Murray met Robison last spring after the departure of the AHL’s Heat was announced. And last May, the WHL also conducted a survey at Sevenoaks Shopping Centre, although the league said at the time that was only part of a larger initiative gauging fans’ awareness of junior hockey.
“The league certainly knows that we’re here,” Braun said of WHL speculation. But he said “We haven’t been approached directly by the WHL or any franchise.”
In January, the AHL announced a major westward shift, with five NHL franchises relocating their AHL operations to cities in California. Among those teams moving was the Calgary Flames’ affiliate. After moving from Abbotsford to Glen Falls, N.Y., the franchise will relocate once again to Stockton, Calif., and be called the Stockton Heat.
Abbotsford has been regularly suggested as a potential location for the Vancouver Canucks’ minor-league affiliate, but the lack of AHL teams in the region has been one of several obstacles.
Braun said while the city had previously held discussions with the Canucks prior to moving its AHL team to Utica, N.Y., there haven’t been any recent indications the franchise is looking to move its farm team again.
“Given their current commitment to Utica, we haven’t had any recent conversations, but like the WHL they know we’re here,” he said. “We’re watching the emergence of the Pacific Division of the AHL, and we’ll continue to watch it and all of the other things we believe are viable fits for the Abbotsford Centre. Where that will take us, I don’t know.”
He wouldn’t divulge what other sports could provide possible tenants because he said doing so might make it easy to deduce the suitors involved.
Braun said he regularly hears speculation about the building and potential tenants, but the city continues to work towards the right fit. He said there “might not be a third chance” if the next tenant fails.
“Everybody knows that we have a centre that doesn’t have a major tenant, so I can appreciate how people start speculating,” he said. “We’re looking for the right fit, the right deal at the right time.”
The Abbotsford Centre lost $1.7 million in 2014, but Braun said management seems to have “fixed” the entertainment side of the project, with fewer acts losing money.