The potential move of the Springfield Falcons (AHL) to Tucson for the 2016-2017 season took a big step forward after downtown business group Rio Nuevo agreed to fund $3.2 million in arena upgrades at the Tucson Convention Center.
The Arizona Coyotes have a deal to buy the Falcons and move the franchise to Tucson for next season, subject to AHL approval (presumably) at the May 10 league meetings. The move of the Falcon comes on the heels of the successful shift of several AHL teams from the East Coast to the West Coast. And with Tucson being the largest market in the United States with no professional sports, the moves looks good on paper.
The arena upgrades were a big part of the formula in bringing the Falcons to the Tucson Convention Center, which seats 7,000 and been home to the University of Arizona’s club team. Rio Nuevo is positioning this as an economic-development deal, perhaps with some rosy projections:
Rio Nuevo board chairman Fletcher McCusker made an economic-impact argument for the $3.2 million investment in bringing the Tucson Convention Center arena up to AHL standards.
Other AHL Pacific Division teams, such as the San Diego Gulls, with an average of almost 9,000 fans per game, have “knocked attendance out of the park,” McCusker said.
The TCC can seat 7,000 hockey fans. At 34 sold-out games, and with each person spending an average of $30 on downtown restaurants and shops, this deal could bring a $7 million economic impact, McCusker told the board.
Still, if McCusker is off by half, the spending on the arena upgrades should be worth the investment. The work will include:
- Upgrades to the locker rooms and dressing areas for use by the AHL team, the UA club team and visitors.
- Replacing damaged dasher boards.
- Building a new press box.
- Upgrading the arena’s ice plant.
Potentially down the road: a new workout facility and skating facility open to the public.
With the loss of the Falcons, the city of Springfield will be on the hunt for a replacement tenant at MassMutual Center. There will certainly be talks with the ECHL about a team, and while Charlie Pompea couldn’t make the AHL work in Springfield, an ECHL team may be just the ticket, especially with lots of new attractions — a casino and a start-up hub — coming online by 2018.
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