Moncton needs to push forward with a plan of developing a new sports and entertainment centre in the city’s downtown, according to a business group.

The Highfield Square mall is slated to close by September and that will open up possibilities to revitalize the downtown area.

The city has the option to buy the land for $6 million and has until March to complete the deal.

Louis Leger, the president and chief executive officer of Downtown Moncton Inc., told his group’s annual meeting on Tuesday the project is necessary to revitalize the city’s downtown core.

If we do not succeed in getting this it will hurt and it will not be good for our downtown.' — Louis Leger, Downtown Moncton Inc.

"The next year is going to be about pushing forward very hard to get the funding in place and to finalize what it is that we want. So we can go out, the city can go out, with requests for interests," Leger said.

"That's the next step so we're not that far out."

Four architects have come up with conceptual plans for the downtown project.

All of the renderings feature a 10,000-seat arena and a convention centre, as well as a shopping centre, restaurants, condos and an outdoor space.

Leger said it's time to decide what the final product will look like.

And he is not soft-pedalling his views on the importance of securing the downtown centre.

"If we do not succeed in getting this it will hurt and it will not be good for our downtown. The flip side is not a good thing."

Downtown Moncton Inc. has already committed $2.5 million toward the project.

Financial questions

But the project still needs funding and that could become a stumbling block for the project's proponents.

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said the city is working on the financial angle of the deal along with a business plan.

LeBlanc said he also worries about what would happen in the downtown if the sports and entertainment project falls through.

"It could be devastating," he said.

"We need to do all we can to revitalize downtown Moncton. I think Downtown Moncton needs us more now than ever with Highfield Square closing. So I think this is a very important project and I'm truly committed to it."

Last December, P3 Canada, a federal Crown corporation, rejected Moncton’s funding request of $25 million toward the centre.

Moncton politicians and event organizers have long sought a new sports and entertainment complex to replace the aging Moncton Coliseum.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Moncton Wildcats, the coliseum’s main tenant, have complained about getting access to the facility in the past, especially during the league’s playoffs.

There have been other complaints that major concerts must bypass the city because the coliseum's roof is too low.