Quebec City is confident its planned $400-million arena will rival the best in the NHL, mayor Regis Labeaume said Friday, but architects already have been told to make some minor alterations so that the project doesn't exceed its budget.
After touring Pittsburgh's one-year-old Consol Energy Center, Labeaume told reporters it would be a "dream" to deliver a similar building to his hockey-starved constituents. Quebec lost an NHL team when the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and were renamed the Avalanche.
And should an NHL team, perhaps the Phoenix Coyotes, look to relocate before the Quebec City arena opens in 2015, Labeaume said the city is ready to welcome it to the existing Pepsi Colisee as early as "tomorrow morning."
"I will be careful what I say, but if the League called, [we] would be ready," he said.
The Colisee, which opened in 1949, is outdated by new-arena standards, but Labeaume said it can be spruced up to a level that would at least match and perhaps exceed the Saddledome in Calgary and Nassau Veterans Coliseum on Long Island.
Quebec doesn't have a preference whether a team is acquired via the transfer of an existing club or expansion. However, the NHL has given no sign it might add more teams beyond its current 30. No team had relocated since the 1990s before the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg this season.
"We want a club," Labeaume said in an interview conducted in French and translated by an aide to the mayor and bilingual reporters. "But, for the rest, I will let Mr. [Pierre Karl] Peladeau have discussions with the league. My duty is to deliver an amphitheater."
Peladeau is the president and CEO of media giant Quebecor, which has agreed to pay the city to manage the arena for at least 25 years. Quebecor would ante up $63.5 million for naming rights if an NHL team is acquired, plus $4.5 million in annual rent. The amounts would be less if there is no team.
Quebec City is intent on building an arena similar to Consol, the Bell Centre in Montreal or the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, but Labeaume said its features must be unique to Quebec and cannot merely duplicate what already exists.
With inflation estimated at five per cent annually, Labeaume said it might be difficult to build an arena identical to Pittsburgh's 18,387-seat building in Quebec City. Consol, a 720,000-square foot building that cost $321 million, opened as scheduled in mid-2010 and did not go over budget.
"The $400 million, we have no choice but for it to be enough," Labeaume said. "But I'm leaving [Pittsburgh] a little more nervous than when I arrived."
Labeaume said architects already "have been asked to cut a few thousand square feet. From my heart, it's going to hurt, but we have to make choices."
A groundbreaking ceremony will be held sometime this summer or fall, Labeaume said.
Labeaume explained an arena must incorporate fan necessities such as scoreboards with large video replay boards, expensive sound system and kitchens, all of which add to the cost over and above the actual construction.
While being guided through Consol by assistant general manager Rob Goodman, Labeaume focused on features such as its much-praised seating — Consol is designed so that none of its 18,387 seats has an obstructed view or is overly far from the ice — and flexibility.
Its $1 million-plus curtaining system allows Consol to be reconfigured to accommodate as few as 2,500 spectators or as many as 20,000 for events, all with equal amenities. There also are numerous meeting rooms of various sizes that provide revenue on a daily basis aside from games or concerts.