Hotel operators in Moncton share Mayor George LeBlanc's concerns that the city's future downtown entertainment centre won't be big enough.

City council approved plans this week to build a 7,500-seat sports and entertainment complex on the Highfield Square property downtown if sufficient funding can be obtained.

Moncton Downtown Centre

UK consultants hired to oversee construction of an entertainment and sports complex in downtown Moncton. (Courtesy City of Moncton)

​LeBlanc wanted the centre to have at least 9,000 seats, pointing out that the 40-year-old Moncton Coliseum, which the new centre is meant to replace, can already accommodate about 6,700.

The Greater Moncton Hotel Association agrees with LeBlanc, said president Ray Roberge.

"What concerns us as a group is we'd prefer to see it go to 9,000 or 9,500 seats," said Roberge.

Roberge believes a bigger facility would allow the city to bid on bigger events.

"We want to be in the marketplace where we can host world class events that can last a week or two —  the World Junior Hockey Championships, World Women's Hockey Championships, large curling events," said Roberge.

'We want to be in the marketplace where we can host world class events that can last a week or two.' - Ray Roberge, hotel association president

Roberge said those types of events result in extended stays in the city for organizers, participants and fans.

"There's people who come here ahead of time, and they're here after."

"When you take a look at, `Will 7,500 seats be able to accommodate that?' I'm not sure."

Roberge says the hotel association will help pay for the centre by levying a room tax to collect $700,000 a year.

Roberge expects to meet with LeBlanc and city manager Jacques Dubé to review the reasons for council opting for the smaller centre.

"We're willing to sit down with them to have a discussion to make sure we come up with a great idea because, you know what? We have a lot of skin in this game," said Roberge.

Dubé told city council earlier that event promoters advised that a 7,500-seat facility was the proper size for market of Moncton's size.

Roberge says if 7,500 seats turns out to be proper sized facility for Moncton, he'll accept it.

Online petition calls for more seats

Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched by Brodie Rochford, 23, to lobby the city to increase the number of seats in the centre.

"When you look at big acts like in Halifax, which brought in some metal bands and stuff, they fill the arena to 10,000, 11,000 people," said Rochford, who is from Moncton but is now studing in Prince Edward Island.

Rochford believes Moncton's centre needs at least 9,000 seats to compete with the 11,000-seat Halifax Metro Centre for events.

"Let's start a petition and see if we can get 1,000 signatures and then bring it in to the council and let the council know that the city wants more than what they're saying," he said. "Let the people be heard."

Dubé said it would be difficult for the city to build a larger centre without raising taxes.

The expected cost of the centre is around $100 million and the project needs funding commitments from the federal and provincial governments to make the project go ahead. The city is hoping to obtain funding guarantees of $24-million from each level of government by mid-August.

EllisDon and Bird Construction Inc. are the possible developers involved. They have until mid-August to submit their proposals to the city.