The Alberta government stepped up with $1.75 million on Thursday to expand Enmax Centrium seating and provide a serious boost to efforts to land the first Memorial Cup to be played in Alberta in 40 years.
Westerner Park will use the matching funds to bankroll a $3.5-million upgrade that will see 1,000 seats and 14 more luxury boxes added to the 6,000-seat facility.
The City of Red Deer earlier pitched in with $1 million and Red Deer County gave $500,000.
Touted as an investment in economic development, the project is expected to create a facility better positioned to land major sporting events such as the Tim Hortons Brier and the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup, last held in this province in 1971.
The Red Deer Rebels organization found out on Wednesday that it made a short list of three communities being considered for the 2013 tournament that attracts the best junior hockey teams in the country.
Rebels owner and president Brent Sutter said the Centrium upgrade, which includes a dramatic two-tier bank of luxury boxes at the west end, can only help the team’s bid.
“It puts more seating capacity in the building. You have more suites in the building. It just makes it a bigger facility to be able to host an event like the Memorial Cup.”
Being chosen to host the Memorial Cup involves presenting sound hockey and businesses cases, said Sutter. “This certainly enhances the business model, no doubt.”
An upgraded facility also won’t hurt when trying to recruit players and draw corporate sponsorships. Luxury suites are much in demand, with about 50 businesses on a waiting list for the existing 18 suites. The addition will almost double that number in a building that Sutter already considers one of the best rinks in the league.
Alberta Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett was in Red Deer to make the funding announcement, which he called a “no-brainer.”
The project will provide an economic boost to Central Alberta and reflects the government’s commitment to help communities across the province.
“It’s important to recognize in Alberta it’s not just about Calgary and Edmonton,” said Blackett, in a cheque presentation ceremony at the Centrium, where he was joined by area MLAs, and municipal, Rebels and Westerner Park representatives.
Westerner Park board president Michael Donlevy said the economic spinoffs from attracting major events can be measured in the tens of millions. About $35 million was generated for host communities by the 2009 Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary and the 2010 Memorial Cup in Brandon alone.
More seating also gives the facility a better shot at landing major concerts and other events.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2012 and the renovations would be complete in time for the fall hockey season.