British Columbia

Prince George keeping WHL, BCHL hockey arenas closed due to pandemic

Council has voted to keep the CN Centre and Rolling Mix Concrete Arena closed for the rest of the year to help ease the financial impact of the pandemic on the city's budget.

CN Centre and Rolling Mix Concrete Arena could remain shut until 2021

The CN Centre, home to the Prince George Cougars, is also one of the largest northern B.C. venues for concerts and events. To save money, the city is keeping the doors closed until enough paying fans can pack the seats. (Prince George Cougars)

There will be no hockey played on home ice at two Prince George rinks that municipal leaders have decided to keep closed until 2021 — or until COVID-19 disappears — whatever comes first.

On Monday, Prince George city council voted to keep the CN Centre and the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena closed for the rest of the year, which poses a challenge for the local Western Hockey League (WHL) and B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) teams that play at those rinks.

The Prince George Cougars, who are scheduled to start the WHL 2020-21 season on Oct. 2, play at the CN Centre, while the Prince George Spruce Kings, who tentatively plan to start playing other BCHL teams in December, play at Rolling Mix.

Both teams are waiting on provincial approval before the leagues' seasons can begin.

The arenas were initially set to reopen Aug. 4, but since revenues from city-run arenas have been so severely impacted by the pandemic, that date will not be met. 

As of mid-July, the city estimated it has lost about $1 million per month since the onset of the pandemic and, as a result, could be facing a budget shortfall of $9 million in 2021.

The city will open the local Kin Arenas for user groups on Aug. 17, but the WHL and BCHL teams' home ice will stay closed until those arenas are safe to reopen for paying fans who can bring revenue to the city.

"It's horrendous of course, but then this entire COVID situation is horrendous," said Andy Beesley, vice-president of business for the Cougars.

'Fluid' situation

Beesley, speaking Tuesday on Daybreak North, said the situation is fluid and "if, by some miraculous reason, COVID clears, we have every reason to believe the city would then reconsider and open the arena for us."

In an open letter, Mike Hawes, general manager of the Spruce Kings, said he has also been reassured that when the province gives approval for the BCHL season to start, city staff will then recommend Rolling Mix reopen.

But for now, and for the foreseeable future, the city will keep those venues closed in an effort to save money.

Even in a regular year, the city says arenas and other civic facilities, like pools, do not come close to making money but are a service local governments provide their communities, with the revenue generated going toward operating costs. 

"Every time somebody comes in and spends a dollar we are subsidizing that at this point by about 45 per cent," said Mayor Lyn Hall.

And city staff say user fees aren't enough to offset the money lost to arena events that were cancelled this year. 

The CN Centre has played host to some of the top names in entertainment, from Elton John to Cirque du Soleil.

Glen Mikkelsen, who runs the CN Centre, said the next event officially on the books for the venue is in January.

"Everybody is really looking toward 2021," said Mikkelsen.

To hear Andy Beesley and Glen Mikkelsen talk about arena closures, tap here.
To hear Mayor Lyn Hall discuss the city's strapped financial state, tap here.

With files from Daybreak North

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