By Kevin Nagel
Every project starts with baby steps, and in
this case they’re being made by a Burlington group hoping to attract an
Ontario Hockey League team to the city. The Burlington City Rep Hockey Club and a
local business owner are looking into bringing the highest level of
junior hockey to the city.
The first step was taken a couple of weeks ago when a survey appeared online attempting to gauge the interest in the project.
There has been no official meeting with the OHL or the City of Burlington, but that’s expected to occur in the near future, according to Tim Wilson, owner of Mighty Expedite, a freight forwarding company on Industrial Street in Burlington.
Wilson was responsible for the survey (ohl2burlington.ca) and he’s encouraged by the early results garnered without advertising — 454 responses, including 318 who said they’d purchase season tickets.
The first obstacle is funding a home arena of the prospective OHL team. The total would exceed $50 million based on similar-sized arenas built in southern Ontario in the past few years.
Wilson says there is serious investor interest in contributing to both the financing of the arena and purchasing an OHL team.
“In my years of coaching, I’ve been to cities smaller than ours with giant venues,” said Wilson, who also coaches rep hockey with the BCRHC Eagles. “I think (an arena) would put Burlington on the map. You read we’re the third or fourth best city (in Canada) to live in and we don’t even have a venue like this. How much better can we make this city with a bigger arena?”
BCRHC president John Tait is an enthusiastic endorser of the plan.
“The survey is to stir the pot, really,” said Tait. “We’d love to somehow get an OHL franchise. As a member of the Burlington Ice Users Group, we’ve built Mainway and Appleby arenas. All we need is the city to be on board.” Denise Baird, the City of Burlington’s manager of community development services, said there has been no official business plan for a new arena submitted to the city.
“Council has directed us to go back with an arena review now that Mountainside (Arena) has opened,” she said, “so we’re preparing to do that in June.”
When she meets with the ice users group, Baird said the subject may or may not be discussed.
"We’re going to talk about the project for the (June) arena review,” she said.
The next ice users meeting is set for Tuesday, Jan. 20.
Privately-owned land east of the Aldershot GO station was considered for a potential stadium site for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats four years ago and would be a prime spot for the new arena, said Wilson.
The OHL currently has 20 franchises — 17 in Ontario, two in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania. The OHL would want any new team to have an arena with at least 4,000 seats, preferably more. Wilson said he has had casual discussions with OHL officials.
While the best attendance in the OHL last year was in London, with just over 9,000 fans per game, the league average was about 3,700, with the Belleville Bulls attracting the fewest customers at just over 2,300.
Kevin Nagel is the Burlington Post sports editor.