Moncton is escalating its lease fight with Robert Irving's Moncton Wildcats when the city's manager declared they were no longer willing to subsidize the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.
Back in May, Irving told reporters he was having trouble getting a lease agreement with the city and he criticized the 40-year-old Moncton Coliseum for being old and the troubles in arranging proper playoff dates.
Jacques Dubé, Moncton's city manager, said on Wednesday the hockey team costs the city $175,000 a year, which includes a number of perks that it has given the Wildcats.
'Over the last 12 years, certainly, the Moncton taxpayers have spent over one million dollars subsidizing Mr. Irving's hockey team.' — Jacques Dubé, Moncton city manager
Dube said the Wildcats control concession for all events at the coliseum, not just during hockey games.
Dubé said there are also catering rights and advertisements.
The city manager said he's hoping the two sides can reach a "fair deal" for Moncton taxpayers.
"The coliseum is a business and [the goal is to] demonstrate a return on taxpayers on Moncton taxpayers' investment in that facility," Dubé said.
"Ultimately, we're accountable to the taxpayers of Moncton. And over the last 12 years, certainly, the Moncton taxpayers have spent over one million dollars subsidizing Mr. Irving's hockey team."
He said the city wants to end the subsidies to Irving's hockey franchise within the next three years.
Irving threatened sale
Irving has threatened to sell the Wildcats if a lease deal cannot be hammered out with the city.
Dubé said the city values the Wildcats and is still hopeful a deal can be reached.
Irving said in a press release issued late Wednesday the Wildcats provide close to $500,000 in revenue per year for the use of the coliseum, an amount that he said has increased "significantly" in recent years.
He also said the team provides indirect economic and social benefits to the community, including raising Moncton's profile within North America.
"As I have indicated to mayor and council, there have been no significant improvements to the services provided by the coliseum that could justify the major increases in fees that the mayor and council are demanding," Irving's statement said.
"In fact, the city is aware that a number of issues have caused the Wildcats to lose revenue and incur extra costs to operate the team," according to Irving's statement.
Irving said in May that he had wanted a deal with the city completed within two weeks.
A particular grievance faced by the Wildcats was the problem securing home games during the QMJHL playoffs, which the team won.
During the team's playoff run, especially in the final round versus their provincial rival Saint John Sea Dogs, the Wildcats had to play later in the evenings or they couldn't get ice time in the coliseum when they needed because of trade shows being held in the facility.
The Wildcats were able to play all of their games in their home rink, but they were forced to play on consecutive nights.
The city has been exploring the possibility of building a new $80-million downtown sports and entertainment complex.
The alternative is having the city invest $40 million into repairing the aging 6,500-seat coliseum.