The historic but shuttered Windsor Arena could receive a new life, as an intriguing renovation proposal has been unveiled by professional basketball’s Windsor Express.
Originally known as Border Cities Arena, the downtown Windsor, ON venue was first built in 1924 and later served as first home of the NHL’s Detroit Cougars (known today as the Red Wings) while Detroit’s Olympia Stadium was under construction. The venue remained operational for the next several decades, but closed to the public in 2013 and has since been mothballed as city officials try to determine future plans for the site.
The Express (National Basketball League of Canada) is now seeking to reopen Windsor Arena as part of a proposed renovation. Under the concept that has been floated, the venue would be renovated to accommodate Express games along with a variety of non-basketball events, including boxing and wrestling, concerts, eSports, women’s roller derby, and more. A few details remain unknown at this point, as the price tag has not been disclosed and it has not been determined whether the Express would lease or buy the arena.
While some discussion will have to take place before it is determined if a Windsor Arena renovation moves forward, city officials sound open to the idea, especially if it can result in enough event dates to bring more activity into the downtown arena. More from the Windsor Star:
“That arena is a significant piece of the community and it needs to be brought back to the people of Windsor,” Express president Dartis Willis said at a news conference unveiling ambitious plans that still must sink several three-point shots before from becoming a reality. Just three weeks ago city council shortlisted the Express proposal along with a proposal from the YMCA, as the city moves to find a use for the Barn and the adjacent Water World property.
Council directed administration to meet with the two shortlisted proponents to discuss whether they — the Express and the Y — could develop the project together, since the Y is mostly interested in Water World and the Express is mostly interested in Windsor Arena. Parties for both proponents have told the Star they’re interested in working together.
Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, who represents the downtown including the Windsor Arena area at Wyandotte and McDougall streets, said he sees the Express proposal as a dynamic idea for a key property — vacant for seven years — that’s a “money drag” for city taxpayers. Basketball is an urban sport, he said, drawing its fans and players from core areas. He envisions the Express project generating major foot traffic through the downtown and expanding the downtown footprint to the east.
“I can’t say enough, I think this is something that would definitely fit, definitely work, I’ve been a supporter from Day 1,” said Bortolin, who’s been working with Willis for three years. He emphasized that the project won’t work if it’s just about Express home games. The Barn can’t just be active for 30 or 40 nights a year. There has to be closer to 200, be it for Express games or recreational volleyball leagues.
The Express currently play at WFCU Centre, but believe that a move to a renovated Windsor Arena in the downtown area could help boost attendance. The team hopes to begin play at the overhauled arena by its 2021-22 season.
Renderings by JP Thompson Architects Ldt.