British Columbia

Abbotsford arena fails to replace Heat with major tenant

The City of Abbotsford has announced plans for its new 8,000 seat arena vacated by the Abbotsford Heat hockey team earlier this year, but they still don't include a significant new tenant.

City paid $5.5 million to get rid of the Abbotsford Heat but has yet to find a replacement

The Abbotsford Heat left in April after the city bought the team out because it was suffering millions in financial losses due to poor attendance. (CBC)

The City of Abbotsford has announced plans for its new 8,000 seat arena vacated by the Abbotsford Heat hockey team earlier this year, but they still don't include a significant new tenant.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Bruce Banman announced there will still be hockey played at the Abbotsford Centre this fall, it just won't be professional hockey.

The Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association will now be headquartered at the new arena, which will focus on community sports teams and concerts, said Banman.

The arena has nine dates booked for the fall including two featuring Brad Paisley and John Fogerty, said Banman.

However, there are still a number of holes in the schedule, because as things currently stand, there won't be any hockey in October, November or December.

Abbotsford mayor Bruce Banman announced Tuesday the new 8,000 seat Abbotsford Centre arena will be re-purposed for community sports and concerts after it was vacated this spring by the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

Jordan Bateman with the Canadian Taxpayers' Association says the building is a prime example of why municipalities in Canada should not be funding arenas of this size.

"I love minor hockey," said Bateman, "but taxpayers don’t build 8,000 seat arenas to house it. Does minor hockey rent even cover turning lights on...or staff?"

Banman inherited the problem from former Abbotsford mayor George Peary and council who inked the deal. And he says buying out the Heat actually saved the city more than $5 million because attendance was so low.

In April, Abbotsford announced it had paid the owners of the Heat $5.5 million to end the Calgary Flames' farm team's contract with the city, capping off years of financial losses for the city.

Banman said the contract with the team had cost the city more than $12 million since 2010, when Peary signed a ten-year deal with the Heat to guarantee $5.7 million a year in revenue.

The Heat had a tough time filling the city-owned 8,000-seat Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and faced major hurdles winning fans, including a lack of local interest — and the team's affiliation with the Calgary Flames, a rival of the Vancouver Canucks.

Last year the owners of the Vancouver Canucks failed to reach a deal with the city to move their Utica Comets farm team from New York to Abbotsford.

With files from Richard Zussman

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