Windsor

10 years later: the WFCU Centre hits milestone anniversary

Despite Memorial Cup and FINA success, the area around the WFCU has remained largely undeveloped. Originally, there were hopes for restaurants and hotels to build up the neighbourhood.

'What we have to do is create an environment that’s a little more enticing'

The $71 million WFCU Centre was built in 2008. (CBC News)

Ten years later, industry experts say the WFCU Centre has more to do before it lives up to its expectations.

Named for the Windsor Family Credit Union, the entertainment and sports complex was approved in 2006 and built in 2008. Construction on the $71 million project began January 2007.

The facility plays host to the Windsor Spitfires and the Windsor Express, along with numerous community groups and the Life After Fifty organization. 

Despite Memorial Cup and FINA success, the area around the WFCU has remained largely undeveloped. Originally, there were hopes for restaurants and hotels to build up the neighbourhood.

John Savage, an ownership group member for the Windsor Spitfires said that was "certainly the hope for the location."

"Hasn't happened yet," Savage said, adding that there are many ongoing initiatives to create a "party atmosphere" in the WFCU Centre.

Parking at the WFCU Centre takes up just as large of a footprint as the arena complex itself. (Google Earth)

"What we've been considering is creating fan zones within the facility," said Savage. He calls the "slight downward trend" of Spitfires ticket sales a cycle. 

"Most OHL teams all go through this cycle," said Savage. He doesn't think it's poor Spits performance that's causing the problem. 

"What we have to do is create an environment that's a little more enticing for people to want to come and spend their hard-earned dollars at the WFCU."

Former city councillor Ken Lewenza Jr. said in a perfect world, he'd have liked to see the arena go downtown. 

"Councils were trying to build the arena for 30 years — it was something that just couldn't get done," said Lewenza Jr. "You couldn't have put four ice pads in the downtown core."

Savage said it's been a trend in the last decade to centralize facilities like to WFCU in the downtown area. 

Richard Peddie, former CEO and president of Maple Leaf Sports calls it a "missed opportunity."

"Building it out in a corn field was not a good idea," said Peddie. He was shocked at its location when he visited the centre a few years ago.

"I get into my car and I'm driving from Amherstburg and I'm thinking 'gee, where is this arena?'"

One of the rinks was removed and turned into a pool for the FINA championships in 2016. (FINA Windsor 2016)

Peddie lists the Air Canada Centre and BMO Field as examples of how sports and entertainment complexes thrive in a downtown core. 

But at the time, Lewenza Jr. says there was "no appetite" on council to put an arena for the Spitfires downtown — plus, according to Lewenza Jr., Caesars Windsor said they wouldn't build the Colosseum if an arena went into Windsor's core. 

The location of the arena is often cited as a reason for the dwindling fan base of the Windsor Spitfires and the low turnout at Windsor Express games.

In April, the Spitfire's vice president and general manager, Warren Rychel said there was a two per cent drop throughout the OHL for ticket sales.

"Building it out in a corn field was not a good idea,” said Richard Peddie, former CEO and president of Maple Leaf Sports. (CBC)

"I think if you did some type of study, you'd think of people who have more economic means, they'd be more in that particular area," said Lewenza. Jr. He doesn't understand the Spitfires low ticket sales and says the Spits have delivered on their promise.

"The Windsor Spitfires they said they needed a new arena to be able to compete and they brought three Memorial Cups into the community."

The Spitfires sold out the final Memorial Cup game last year with 6,500 seats filled.

There are four rinks available for public rentals, as well as a gym, reception hall and meeting rooms at the WFCU Centre. The facility has hosted concerts, Cirque du Soleil shows and sports events.

With files from Dale Molnar

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