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Behind the Scenes if the OHL: Facility Renewal

It seems this is the season of facility renewal within the OHL.
With teams like the Owen Sound Attack and the Niagara Ice Dogs barely able to squeeze in 3000 fans into their buildings, teams such as the London Knights can regularly fill 9000 seats. However, there are changes going on throughout the OHL to upgrade arenas to not only compete on the ice, but also to compete financially. The Erie Otters revamped their line up this year with the arrival of rookie phenom Connor McDavid but they also managed to upgrade their facilities with the completion of a $42 million renovation.
The Ottawa 67s took a risk this year by moving their team to Kanata, relocating to the Scotiabank Place where the Senators of the NHL play. The timing couldn’t be any better for the 67s as their arrival coincided with the NHL lockout and they don’t need to share the facilities or the fans with the pro team. While there was some concern they might lose their fan base during the two year renovation process, the reward will be a return to an updated modern Ottawa Civic Centre.

The first home game for the Kitchener Rangers was pushed back until October 19th. After starting the season with eight away games, the Rangers were able to return to a newly refurbished Memorial Auditorium after $10 million has been spent to provide a third-level concourse, a fourth-level media room and loft style suites, renovated team space, including dressing rooms, player services and retail areas. The expansion added almost 1,000 seats to the Aud’s seating capacity which means there will be a reduction to the current season ticket wait list of 1,300 names.

Six years ago when the Burke family purchased the Mississauga Ice Dogs and relocated the team to St. Catharines, it was with the understanding a new arena would be built within five years. The decision to build a new arena was a contentious issue for the City of St. Catharines, many citizens expressing concern the current economic climate was not ideal for the city to be spending $45 million on what some detractors are calling a puck palace. While the Niagara Ice Dogs have inked a deal to become the anchor tenant, the city is banking the new facility will also serve as a recreation and entertainment centre for all residents of St. Catharines. While they didn’t quite make the five year deadline, the shovel will hit the ground in a few weeks for the Ice Dogs to start the 2015 hockey season in a new modern facility.

The St. Catharines Standard reports Ice Dog owners Bill and Denise Burke have signed a 20-year lease with the city getting a percentage of gross ticket sales and a surcharge on every ticket sold. The city also keeps any cash from naming rights and parking, as well as an equitable share of profits from in-house ads, suites, club seats and concession sales.
Currently the Ice Dogs are regularly selling out in a very cramped Jack Gatecliff arena with a capacity of 3145. “If it’s a full house, it’s more revenue, obviously, for the city,” said Bill Burke. He called the 10% figure “a very fair number for a 20-year lease….I’d like to think that we could be 4,000, 4,500 every night.”
In the mean time the Niagara Ice Dogs will continue to play in the quaint old barn of the “Jack”, clearly the oldest arena in the Ontario Hockey League. While there is a limited source of revenue for the owners and a tight squeeze for the fans, the players have always enjoyed playing in the Jack where the roar of the fans inspire the home team and can intimidate opponents. The Ice Dogs also use the smaller ice surface to their advantage.
With Niagara fans excited their new arena will finally be built, it was the Brampton Battalion which made the news throughout the OHL this week. The Battalion has been unable to fill the Powerade Centre since their arrival in Brampton. In the final year of a 15 year lease, team owner Scott Abbot made the decision to pull the team out of Brampton and make a move to North Bay. Perhaps Abbott was inspired by the success of the Burkes moving a team to a smaller community which will spiritedly embrace an OHL team even if the facilities are in need of improvement.
The city of North Bay has already committed to a $12 million renovation which will  include expanding seating capacity to about 4,300, increasing the size of the ice surface to a more standard 200 by 85 feet, a large team dressing room/fitness area/administrative centre and new heating and cooling system. The city is wholeheartedly supporting this move as North Bay mayor Al McDonald reported to Yahoo Sport the team has “sold 100 season tickets within 2 hrs of their office opening & they haven't even started a ticket drive.”

Fan Kevin Jordan can claim he has been to all 20 OHL arenas and has created an on-line guide describing the individual personalities of each facility.
A brief outline of each arena is posted below (if the facts of Wickipedia can be trusted)
Barrie Colts: Molson Centre built in 1995 for $13 million with a capacity of 4195.
Belleville Bulls: Yardmen Arena built in 1978 with a capacity of 3257. It has the largest ice surface in the OHL (200 ft x 100 ft)
Brampton Battalion: Powerade Centre built in 1998 for $26.5 million with a capacity of 4800
Kingston Frontenacs: KROCK Centre built in 2008 for $46.5 million with a capacity of 5700.
Mississauga Steelheads: Hershey Centre built in 1998 for $22 million with a capacity of 5800.
Niagara Ice Dogs: Gatorade Garden City Complex, formerly The Jack Gatecliff Arena (the Jack) built in 1938 for $105,000 with a capacity of 3145 including standing room. (By far the oldest in the OHL and the smallest ice surface at 190 ft x 80 ft)
Oshawa Generals: GM Centre built in 2006 for $45 million with a capacity of 6107.
Ottawa 67s: Ottawa Civic Centre built in 1967 for $9.5 million with a current capacity of 9862 (currently under renovation with the 67s playing out of the Scotiabank centre until the 2 year renovation is completed)
Peterborough Petes: Memorial Centre built in 1956, renovated in 2003 with a capacity of 4329.
Sudbury Wolves: Community Arena built in 1951, renovated in 2007 with a capacity of 5100.
Erie Otters: Erie Insurance Centre built in 1983 for $9.3 million with a $42 million renovation almost complete. Capacity is 6500.
Guelph Storm: Sleeman Centre built in 2000 for $21 million with a capacity of 4195.
Kitchener Rangers: Memorial Auditorium built in 1951 with a capacity of 7800. With current renovations complete the capacity is close to 9000.
London Knights: Budweiser Gardens (formerly John Labatt Centre) built in 2002 for $52 million with a capacity of 9100.
Owen Sound Attack: Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre/JD McArthur Arena built in 1983 with a capacity of 3500.
Plymouth Whalers: Compuware Arena built in 1996 with a capacity of 4500.
Sarnia Sting: RBC Centre built in 1998 for $15 million with a capacity of 5500.
Saginaw Spirit: Dow Event Center built in 2006 fro $25 million with a capacity of 5527.
Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds: Essar Centre built in 2006 for $25 million with a capacity of 5000.
Windsor Spitfires: WFCU Centre built in 2008 for $71 milllion with a capacity of 6500.
A crowd shot from "the Jack" back in 1938.

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