Quebec and Quebec City are embarking on new municipal building project: a $400 million hockey arena, with a target of completion in 2015.
Mayor Regis Labeaume and Premier Jean Charest announced the project at a crowded press conference on Thursday, saying the city and province would split the costs 50-50. The goal of the project, of course, is to bring the NHL back to Quebec.
However, the two governments are going ahead with this project without a guarantee of an NHL team through expansion or relocation. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in response to the announcement said, We don't get involved in the creation of a building in Quebec City or anywhere else. Because we tell people who are building buildings, don't build it with the expectation you're going to have a team because we're not going to make you that promise.
If the arena is completed, the next question is does the city get an NHL team, or, like Kansas City, will they be left without a professional sports team? Should the city get a team, where will it come from?
Expansion isn't likely since the league currently has 30 teams, many of which are in less-than-ideal financial situations in non-traditional hockey markets, and therefore probably available at the right price for prospective buyers.
One possibility for relocation that has been bandied around is the Phoenix Coyotes. However, signs appear that they would return to Winnipeg (and possibly retake the Jets nickname) should the organization decide to leave. The NHL had previously set a December 31, 2010 deadline for a sale of the Coyotes before opening the sale up to buyers who intended to move the team, but that deadline passed. Still, Chicago investment banker Matthew Hulsizer is expected to buy the team, possibly as soon as the end of February.
Winnipeg's hockey tradition is long, but there exists an equally fervent base clamoring for a return to Quebec City (the Quebec Nordiques—now the Colorado Avalanche—left the province in 1995), as illustrated by a Toronto Star report that examined the lingering fan base and reported that a non-profit group had claimed to have received sales pledges for 70 luxury boxes in an unbuilt—and at that time, unannounced—arena. While those fans probably won't get an expansion team or the Coyotes, there will be other options by the time the arena becomes a brick and mortar entity.
Much like the plan to lure an NFL team to Los Angeles with a new stadium, the intention for the Quebec arena is, build it, and they will come.
This may be a risky bet by the city and province, but it's one they have the guts to take.