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WFCU Centre, Windsor, ONT

It’s okay to get a new arena in town once every 85 years or so. Just ask folks in Windsor, Ontario.


Scheduled Opening:
December 2008
Capacity:
6,469
Owner:
City of Windsor
Arena Cost:
$ 65 million (combined figure with rec center and other arenas in complex)
Suites:
33
Team (s):
Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Address:
8787 McHugh St., Windsor, Ontario N8S 2B8
Phone:
519-253-5300
Website:

Ever since Don Sadler went to work in the Park and Recreation department for the city of Windsor, Ontario in 1990, he has heard about one subject constantly: getting a new hockey arena. "There has always been the want for such a building," he said. "It was a matter of people being convinced there was also a need for such a building."

After several false starts, want and need have finally come together. Currently under construction in East Windsor, roughly 9 ½ miles from the team’s current home (Windsor Arena), the new rink is part of a three-building complex that includes a recreation centre with three arenas of its own and a community centre. The entire complex will be financed by the City of Windsor to the tune of $65 million.

The main arena is tenatively scheduled to open in December 2008. (The side arenas and rec center may open before sooner — perhaps by the end of September.) Windsor Federal Credit Union has agreed to pay $1.62 million (spread out over a 10-year period) for the naming rights.

"If we take care of the place, it should be able to operate for the next 100 years," Sadler said. "It probably won’t pay for itself right away but it should be able to operate in the black."

The new arena will be everything venerable Windsor Arena — which was built in 1925 — isn’t and couldn’t be. The 2300 square foot facility will have nearly 6,500 stadium style seats as well as 33 suites and restaurant seating with a full view of the ice. Just as important, it will have plenty of parking on site and nearby. In addition to being used for hockey, it is expected to be used for concerts and other events that were no longer being held at the old rink. "We can try for concerts, circuses and the like that we never shopped for before," Sadler said.

The Spitfires, a member of the Ontario Hockey League, had made noises about leaving town for a few years. Although there had been talk of a new rink in town for three decades, what finally made this deal was the addition of the other facilities. "Like a lot of cities, Windsor put places as needed," Sadler said. "So, you have a community center here and a rink there and people had to go all over the place to find them. The bigger issue turned out to be it was getting costly to keep all these facilities operating by themselves. Add the growth of women’s hockey and you can see the need. So, when we were able to come up with a place and a plan where you could answer several questions at once, the City Council came through with the funding."

Windsor Arena, located in the heart of downtown, has just 4,400 seats. It will stay open and is expected to be used for youth hockey and open skating. Currently, University of Windsor and St. Clair College do not play games there. Both did at one time and may return with more dates now available to them. The Spitfires have 37 games (34 regular, three preseason) scheduled in 2007-08.

The new place will pay an instant dividend for Windsor. It will serve as host for the 2009 OHL All-Star Game, an event that hasn’t been held in Windsor since 1977. It intends to make a bid to host the 2011 Memorial Cup, Canada’s national championship for amateur hockey. There are plans to bid on other events such as the World Junior Championships. Neither event has ever been held in Windsor. Without a new rink, there would have been no reason to even try for it.

Erecting a facility to replace Windsor Arena is easy to understand. But why was a recreation centre added that would have three NHL size hockey rinks? "There have only been two arenas built in town since 1970," Sadler said. "We also had some aging facilities that really shouldn’t be repaired because of cost. We wanted to look long-term and we simply needed more ice. I am already getting calls about renting it."

The third building in the complex will have two gymnasiums, a weight room, an auditorium and six program/meeting rooms. "We bought an old building ands turned into a senior center backs in the 90s," Sadler recalled. "It is a good communicator but very costly to maintain."

Ground was officially broken in April 2007. Although some people held out hope it would be ready for the start of the 2008-09 Spitfire season, Sadler knew better. "December 2008 is a reasonable date," he said. Ironically, this is following the pattern that happened in Detroit when Joe Louis Arena was constructed. Originally set to open at the start of the 1979-80 season, JLA didn’t open until December 12.

The funding for this rink is expected to be back in city coffers by 2012. Perhaps even more importantly, it was done without a tax increase.

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