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Coast hockey group ready for franchise bid thanks to SCRD board

The society’s goal is to have a Coast-based team on the ice for the 2023-24 season.
Gibsons and Area Community Centre

The groups interested in bringing Junior B hockey to the Coast garnered enough support from the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board on June 23 to make its pitch to the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL).

Sponsoring groups are optimistic

Brenda Rowe, spokesperson for the Sunshine Coast Junior Hockey Society told Coast Reporter on June 24 that with the decisions endorsed by the board, Stu Frizzell, society president and advisor Rick Hopper will be presenting to the PJHL Annual General Meeting on June 25. While no update on the results of that meeting were provided to Coast Reporter by press time, Rowe said the society was “100 per cent positive” about their proposal to secure the single expansion franchise the league is contemplating. The society’s goal is to have a Coast-based team on the ice for the 2023-24 season.

“We are very, very happy with how everything with the SCRD has gone... The board have a lot of questions and they are all appropriate…the conversation is going to continue as we iron out some of the finer details,” she said.

What the SCRD agreed to

While the board made no binding commitments impacting taxpayers, the society and private company, the Sunshine Coast Hockey Group, obtained agreements for support in principle on 10 of 11 key considerations needed to take franchise efforts to the next level. That list of items was developed through discussions between the hockey parties and SCRD staff between June 9 and 22. 

The details were presented at the SCRD committee of the whole meeting on June 23. The staff report on the matter was circulated the day before that gathering. Debate at that meeting forced it into “overtime," past the three-hour meeting limit. Adding in the board meeting that followed, where the committee recommendations were endorsed, kept directors on the job almost nine hours past the 9:30 a.m. committee meeting start time.

The board agreed in principle to negotiate with the society regarding the design, financing and construction of the addition and upgrades to the Gibsons and Area Community Centre (GACC) to accommodate Junior B hockey. It is requiring that the society engage an experience recreational facility architect to undertake design work. Conceptual designs need to be complete prior to approval of any addition and must show how the change would be compatible with potential future SCRD expansion of that facility.  

Finalization of those items will require the approval of the Town of Gibsons, owner of the land the GACC is built on.  Area director Mayor Bill Beamish raised the point that such approval would involve a public process, which needs a minimum of three weeks to unfold after Town Council agrees to consider going that route.  He stated the October, 2022 start of construction date for the GACC renovation detailed in the staff report was “likely not possible."

The current plan is for the society to attract investors to pay for a GACC expansion, which would include extra dressing rooms, training facilities and offices, with second-storey ice-view seating constructed above. In exchange for having the costs of building that addition covered by the society, the SCRD would need to assume ongoing operating and capital renewal costs for the addition and upgrades. Also, the regional district would agree to lease the space and provide ice time and other considerations to the company which will own the team franchise.

The board agreed to also negotiate regarding the company’s exclusive use of the building addition, but rejected an ask related to the waiving of costs for that use. Sechelt Area Director Darnelda Siegers stated she was willing to consider such use as long as the party’s involved paid commercial rental rates. She said she was against allowing the potential new team, which will be a commercial enterprise, to be allowed to use adult or youth arena rates, which are subsidized by taxpayers. 

Also up for eventual board consideration would be a long-term agreement to provide the society the rights to sell advertising at the SCRD’s recreational facilities and bus shelters. That is proposed to include a revenue stream for the SCRD.

In agreeing to consider priority ice allocations to the company for Junior B league competitions, Beamish asked and the board agreed that existing GACC ice and dry-floor user groups would be informed and asked to agree, in writing, to that potential condition.

Another key consideration is licensing for liquor sales during games. The board agreed to have staff investigate permitting requirements for liquor sales during competitions including any associated liability.

Additional asks of the organizers

The board’s requests back to the society and the company are that they provide a robust business plan outlining their financial sustainability, risk consideration and contingencies. In addition, the society will need to involve representatives of the SCRD and Town of Gibsons in the addition design and on the construction project planning and oversight team.

Another ask of the society is that there be legal guarantees about the completion of the addition and upgrades “to the satisfaction of and at no cost or liability to the SCRD."

The final condition in the board’s motion states that any agreements between the SCRD and the society or the company will stipulate that the regional district will not be liable for any financial commitment made related to any proposed GACC expansion or the exclusive use of that area by the new team.

Why the rush? 

Area D director Andreas Tize made a motion at the committee meeting that the process be put on hold until 2023 or later. His objection to proceeding was based on the proposal not being contemplated in the board’s strategic plan. He said focusing board and staff efforts on it is taking away from work on priorities that have already been agreed on and committed to.

While Tize’s motion was supported by Area E Director Donna McMahon, it was defeated. McMahon said she found it “worrisome that they (the proponents) are on such a tight timeline."

Siegers said it was her understanding that the groups have been working on the proposal for over four years, and that the current opportunity with the PJHL is the first chance that they have had to work towards obtaining a franchise. 

That revelation was troubling for Beamish. “If they have been working for four years, why are they coming to the SCRD board now, when we are all going on summer break?” He expressed the view that “a shovel-ready project is the way to go; do the planning, get it right, then go to the league with something that is supportable.”

Addressing how the proposal will affect SCRD staff work plans, general manager of infrastructure services Shelley Gagnon said, “There will be things that need to take a back seat, but opportunities come around. We (staff) are very cognizant of what will be needed and what will take a back seat, but this opportunity may not come around again.”  She acknowledged the process the SCRD is being asked to undertake is “unconventional.”

“Sometimes we have to do the best we can, with the information we have,” she stated.