NHL Team in Peg Good for Business


NHL team in Peg would be good for business
By:Ross Romaniuk

Stefano Grande, executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, stands outside the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The BIZ commented on the possible spinoffs if the NHL returned to Winnipeg. (BRIAN DONOGH/Winnipeg Sun)

WINNIPEG – An NHL franchise at MTS Centre could bring downtown hotels, retailers and restaurants into the business big leagues.

That’s the sort of optimism rising in Winnipeg’s central business district, as hopes rise — perhaps ironically — that a financially troubled hockey franchise will soon arrive to boost the fortunes of firms surrounding the arena.

Should the National Hockey League return to the city in the form of the Phoenix Coyotes or Atlanta Thrashers, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is excited about the prospects of far more people wanting to see games and be part of the action.

“The more people downtown, the better it’s going to be for everyone,” said Chuck Davidson, the chamber’s vice-president.

Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, said he’s “extremely excited” to consider the day the NHL’s “vibrancy,” with more than 15,000 fans per game, perhaps returns following the loss of the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in 1996.

What Grande hopes for is a “planned approach to creating a destination” in the district, with the private and public sectors teaming up to best take advantage of the additional pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Visiting the Phoenix area in April, he saw what he considers somewhat of a model in Westgate City Center, a 200-hectare commercial and entertainment zone in the area of the Coyotes’ home, Jobing.com Arena, in suburban Glendale, Ariz.

“How do you take this traffic generator and really use it as a means to transform downtown? You can only do that by creating a vision for the area,” Grande said. “There’s more and more discussion about creating an entertainment district — a sports and hospitality zone — in our downtown, right on Portage Avenue and around MTS Centre.”

He credits Winnipeg’s CentreVenture Development Corp. for assembling land near the arena for a possible hotel on Portage Avenue and other commercial developments, but says the city and provincial government must get more into the game.

Grande and Davidson point out the city centre’s residential construction is gaining speed at the right time to score with a demand the NHL could create.

See editorial: page 8