Posted By Rob Tripp
If Kingston's new downtown arena fails to open this weekend, the kickoff concert by local rockers The Tragically Hip will likely be rescheduled, not cancelled.
"I don't know that we'd be looking at a cancellation," said Neil Shorthouse, a senior official of the firm managing the city-owned facility. "It would likely be a postponement."
The Hip are scheduled to perform Saturday night at a sold-out show for an expected 6,700 concert-goers.
Two Kingston Frontenacs Ontario Hockey League games are scheduled for opening weekend, tomorrow and Sunday. They could be moved to the Memorial Centre.
The building, now named the K-Rock Centre, doesn't yet have a key civic approval - an occupancy permit - because fire and public safety measures don't yet meet legislated standards.
Shorthouse, director of marketing for the centre and the official who books acts, said the possibility that it will not open tomorrow is being considered.
"There are a number of different contingencies that we can put into place," he said. "We just don't know which one that we're dealing with yet, so we have to wait until the results of the tests are done to understand what our plan of action is going to be."
It's hoped that inspectors approve the building's fire-safety equipment during tests scheduled for today. If the building fails the tests, it is unlikely it could open.
A VIP-attended opening ceremony is planned before the kickoff event in the centre - the hockey game between the Frontenacs and the Belleville Bulls tomorrow night.
That could be bumped to the Memorial Centre, the city's half-century-old spectator arena that remains open.
"We'll look into that and see," Cynthia Beach, a senior manager at City Hall, said in an interview.
Beach, who is overseeing the $46.5-million construction project, stunned city politicians Tuesday night with the news that the building might not open on schedule.
Deputy mayor Rob Matheson said the city and the arena management should look at such options as free tickets to a future event to appease disappointed ticket holders.
"How we deal with the dissatisfaction will go toward how much goodwill is won or lost," Matheson said. "We're doing our best."
The city will lose more than goodwill if the opening is delayed yet again.
"Any delays past the scheduled completion date will create serious risk with respect to the realization of anticipated cash flows and debt-repayment schedules," Desiree Kennedy, a senior city hall finance official, wrote in a report presented to councillors in February 2007.
At the time Kennedy's report was written, the first event in the centre was set for Jan. 18. That deadline was eventually pushed to Feb. 22.
The business plan for the centre is built on a fragile cash flow structure that requires the city to reap profits that can be used to pay the annual costs of borrowing.
If two Frontenacs games are cancelled this weekend, it will hurt the bottom line, since hockey is projected to provide more than 35 per cent of event revenues and 60 per cent of food and beverage revenues yearly.
Shorthouse said contingency plans include the possibility that a permit allowing partial occupancy of the building is issued. He would not elaborate on the contingency plans.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss what those are right now, but having said that, once we get through the tests ... we'll be in a position to tell the public what we're doing," he said.
Moving the Hip concert to another venue is not likely to be considered.
"I don't know that that's something that the band would want to do or what we'd want to do," Shorthouse said. "I think the idea is that this event is a celebration of this facility, so if it has to be postponed, then I think that's one of the options that we'd look at."
He said possible new dates for the show have not been discussed.
"It depends on the band's availability and crew availability for that," he said.