Dream of new arena, Junior A hockey in Comox Valley is still alive

Dear editor,
An interest to create a multi-purpose facility and introduce Junior A, or higher, hockey in the Comox Valley has been reborn.

The Comox Valley Glacier Kings are a Junior B team in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League

The Comox Valley Glacier Kings are a Junior B team in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League

Dear editor,Reading recently about the need for repairs to our local curling rink and also about the growing development at the Trilogy site rekindled an interest I’ve long had in the creation of a multi-purpose facility and the introduction of Junior A, or higher, hockey in our Valley.As a former hockey dad I spent many hours in our arenas. While there, lots of the conversations revolved around upgrading our local hockey environment.Some of you may recall the time when that idea was really hot, when we rather seriously considered renovating Sport Centre 1 to house a Junior A team. Obviously that didn’t pan out.However, the appeal of that general desire remained strong for a long time and may still exist. It does, at least, in my heart.So, back then I decided to undertake a personal feasibility study just to see what it might take to bring such an idea to fruition. I spoke with hockey enthusiasts, with hockey organizations, e.g. the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) that manages Junior A hockey in our province, with local and provincial authorities and politicians, with developers and landowners, including TimberWest and Sage Hills, with potential investors, with local First Nations people and with our Comox Valley Economic Development Society.I visited the Sunwave Centre, a multi-purpose facility in Salmon Arm, home of the Junior A Silverbacks and spoke with that facility’s director and manager. (What a place!)I went several times to Port Alberni’s very impressive yet somewhat less expansive Weyerhaeuser Arena, home of their Junior A Bulldogs. I spoke with those involved with that courageous project. (What an amazing story of community spirit that beautiful arena is.)So, as you can see, I did a bit of research. Here is the highlight of my findings.I learned that one of the basic prerequisites for a Junior A franchise is an arena with a minimum seating capacity of 1,500 people.As you can imagine, it quickly became clear that the cost of a sole-purpose building that size in a region as small as ours makes this concept a financial non-starter. To gain any viability, this idea must be expanded to include a multi-purpose, multi-revenue-producing facility.That’s how the small, tenacious community of Salmon Arm has succeeded. Their beautiful Sunwave Centre is designed to house not only hockey and skating but also, almost magically, any event that requires a large surface and large seating capacity venue.In just a few short hours their ice surface can be covered and transformed into hard surface capable of hosting very large gatherings — indoors! Just as quickly, the ice can reappear. Thus it is a multi-purpose facility.At the Sunwave Centre, run by an independent society, someone is employed full time to ensure that the building remains occupied throughout the year with events reaching far beyond local hockey including large national tournaments, large conferences and large concerts.This impressive building and profitable operation bring incredible vibrancy to the entire Salmon Arm region. The Sunwave Centre generated, when I was doing my research, $5 million to $6 million annually in a region less than half the population of our Comox Valley.So what’s this got to do with curling? In this multi-purpose facility a single refrigeration system could support both hockey and curling rinks while the common areas could be designed to efficiently accommodate not only those sports and their spectators but also large events and their participants.Ergo, economy of scale.Managed effectively, a thoughtfully designed multi-purpose complex could significantly help bolster our region’s economic growth especially now when our economic base is more and more dependent on attracting visitors and newcomers.Curling and hockey are two exciting sports that appeal to people of all ages and that could draw large regional, provincial, national and even international crowds to our region if we were capable of properly housing their events.  It’s not a stretch to believe that some day a multi-purpose complex like the one I’ve described will exist in our rapidly growing Valley.  Such an attractive, beautifully designed architectural masterpiece could be an additional employer and a significant moneymaker in our region.We already know how good our communities are at organizing and hosting world-class festivals and events. We already know that our gorgeous geography is irresistibly attractive.A fast highway leads to our door from the full breadth of our Island. YQQ is a portal to our region. Is now the time to build the facility?Admittedly I’m certainly no expert in this type of large venture. I have however learned that a few of the major pieces to this puzzle are — collaborative involvement by all our municipalities, financing and suitable real estate.As for a Junior A team, the BCHL will talk with us if we show that we can meet their prerequisites.My aim here is simply to throw the idea out for general consideration. Although a multi-purpose complex could possibly become a reality in our region, it is without question a large-scale project that can only be undertaken by those who can and want to do so.On the other hand, if no one with the required abilities picks up on the idea and it goes nowhere, then perhaps it is simply not to be.In closing, you might be wondering why I didn’t further pursue this idea back when it first came to me. Among the main reasons was that near the end of my brief research I learned that Campbell River had a very similar dream that they pursued formally by commissioning a professional feasibility study.To my pleasure, that study reached many of the same conclusions that I had. However, CR’s study contained one important conclusion that I had not considered.It determined that the Campbell River and Comox Valley areas combined could only support one such facility. I chose then to stop what I was doing and wished CR well with their dream. Unfortunately a referendum on the subject subsequently showed that, at the time, there was insufficient political will in CR for such an enterprise.As my research had not sparked much more serious interest locally than was displayed in Campbell River’s referendum, until today I’ve not reopened this file. I understand that Campbell River’s dream is also still alive.Mike Couture,Comox