Tuesday, May 17, 2016

NHL Arenas: New and noteworthy

The NHL arena scene is changing once again. Arenas built in the 1970's and early 1980's (before the beginning of the suite era) are quickly becoming dinosaurs, as billions of dollars (both public and private funding) are being poured into new concrete and new concepts, as NHL teams still primarily rely on the box office for team revenues.

The newest ones, those opening soon (or, recently opened) and the ones currently on various drawing boards represent the best in modern construction. The most energy efficient, most bang-for-the-buck buildings ever devised by human hands.

Let's talk about the newest of the new, shall we?

1. Rogers Place, Edmonton. The new home of the Oilers will open in late July, 2016, ending a controversy which has raged in Alberta's provincial capitol for nearly a decade. This new arena, built on former railway land on the north side of Downtown Edmonton, will feature a tri-level party area in the area where the visitors will attack in the first and third periods. Placed at a stop along the Metro LRT line of Edmonton Transit, most Oilers (and, WHL Oil Kings) fans are already used to 'the train to the game'. Replaces Rexall Place (originally the Northlands Coliseum), which opened in 1974 (yes, that's pre-Gretzky).

2. Little Caesars Arena, Detroit. The new home of the Red Wings, replacing the venerable (opened in 1979) Joe Louis Arena, features three levels of suites, and will be located near the current Ford Field (NFL Lions) and Comerica Park (MLB Tigers) along Woodward Avenue, where hometown-headquartered Quicken Loans has already sponsored the QLine streetcar, which will conveniently have a stop near the arena's front door. This new facility will be ready for the 2017-2018 NHL season. Will the new arena have the same magic as the Joe? Only time will tell. Interesting fact: 40 per cent of the construction workers on the project are residents of the City of Detroit.

3. Ottawa Senators. The Sens' ownership wishes to build a new arena in Downtown Ottawa, on a 22.5 acre (9.3 hectares) site in Lebreton Flats, southwest of Parliament Hill on the west side of Downtown Ottawa, south of the Canadian War Museum. Sens' majority owner Eugene Melnyk told CBC television in December, 2015, that the current Canadian Tire Centre in far-suburban Kanata 'wasn't designed to last 30, 40 years', and he was right. The 20-year-old arena (built 1996), has looked better; Sens' fans have complained of things, such as having Wi-Fi pulled out of the arena in the last few seasons. The arena was the first large-scale development in Kanata, a far-western suburb of Canada's Capital Region. Fact: the Senators had to pay the Province of Ontario, to construct an expressway interchange for fans to access the arena's parking lots prior to opening. While 2018-19 might be doable, looks more like 2019-2020 before Sens' fans won't have the long drive towards Petawawa, in order to see NHL hockey in the Ottawa Valley.

And now, two that are just waiting for teams to occupy them:

4. T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. The new home of the NHL Las Vegas expansion team (which may be awarded this summer), this 17,500-seat anchor next to the New York, New York casino has already opened, and the arena will have already hosted everything from multiple Garth Brooks concerts to the WWE by the time the NHL arrives for the 2017-2018 season. Five levels; two of suites, one full club level, party towers (like Columbus and Arizona), if you can think of it, they will have it; this IS Las Vegas, after all. Just announce the franchise already, Gary Bettman. Due to the nature of the work week of most Vegas locals (not available on weekends), expect games to be mostly on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and very rarely in the afternoon.

5. Videotron Center, Quebec, PQ, Canada. Possibly the future home of the Carolina Hurricanes? Perhaps. But, for now, it's the home of the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), and it's just waiting to be occupied by an NHL franchise. Owned by a division of Quebecor, the world's largest magazine and catalog publisher, this 18,259-seat wonder is loaded with more bells and whistles than most NHL arenas currently have. The Quebecor board includes former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney, who has quietly championed this project from the start. The Nordiques may have failed in Quebec City, but this arena is just waiting for an NHL team to make it a success.

Now, there are others, rumored or just hung up in bureauratic red tape: Calgary, where the Flames are wanting to get away from the flood-prone Stampede grounds, where the Saddledome has sat since opening in 1983; New York, where the Rangers' Madison Square Garden air rights above Penn Station may possibly be rescinded, as part of the Tri-State (NY/NJ/CT) Access to the Region's Core project (this, after spending $900 Million to rebuild the NHL's oldest arena); and then, there's the Islanders, where the Russian-controlled developers who own the Barclays' Center (and hold the operating rights to the Isles' old home, the Nassau County Coliseum, in Hempstead) have proposed to rebuild the 1972-era Coliseum as a 13,000-seat 'boutique' arena and put the Islanders back in their old home, albeit now with all the premium seating and suites that forced Isles' owner Michael Wang to abandon Long Island, forcing the Isles to go to Brooklyn in the first place.

Arizona, where the Coyotes are desperate to get closer to Scottsdale and Mesa, where the money lives in the Valley of the Sun, is so desperate to get out of their lease in Glendale (Gila River Arena) that they are even considering moving into the 13,730-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened for the minor-league Phoenix Roadrunners in 1965, rather than stay in Glendale; any brand new arena for the Coyotes would have to be built in the East Valley, in either Scottsdale or Mesa; there has been talk that the Coyotes and Arizona State University would go in on an arena together, but, as we know, talk is cheap.

Watch as more of the late 80's-early 90's arenas are slowly replaced in the next few years; the preponderance of club/suite revenue-producing seating is simply too alluring for most franchises to stand pat. New revenue streams, such as the ultra-premium club seating in Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Edmonton, where subscribers are guaranteed access to all events in the arena, with complimentary iPad at-seat computers and at-seat service, are now becoming more common every year.

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