Rob Tripp Whig-Standard Staff Writer
Some of the politicians who'll be accountable for the losses if Kingston's new downtown arena and entertainment centre doesn't hit profit targets say they're not concerned about one poorly attended event.
After the city-owned K-Rock Centre hosted two sold-out events - a Friday night hockey game and a Saturday rock concert - spectators shunned the third event of opening weekend, a Sunday afternoon hockey game.
"It's a little discouraging, but I think we have to bounce back from that," said Councillor Mark Gerretsen.
The $46.5-million centre was more than half empty as the Kingston Frontenacs, the city's premier junior hockey team, played Peterborough. Although the building can hold 5,700 hockey fans, fewer than 2,300 attended, according to Ontario Hockey League attendance figures.
The city has banked on collecting a $1.50 surcharge from every hockey ticket sold and has budgeted for 3,500 fans at each game, on average. Sunday's poor showing cost the city $1,800 in lost ticket surcharges alone.
When cities open modern entertainment centres, attendance at sporting events that have moved out of older facilities typically surge, but the surge usually lasts longer than one game.
"The truth is the Frontenacs might not be doing all that great right now, but I think ... with a lot of sporting teams it's cyclical. It goes up and it goes down," Gerretsen said.
The Frontenacs have the third-worst record in the 20-team Ontario league.
"Hopefully in the interim, some of the other events that we bring in there like Avril Lavigne or Anne Murray or Stars on Ice, hopefully that will supplement some of the loss as a result of not being able to pack the house when the Fronts are playing," Gerretsen said.
Hockey attendance is critical to the centre's financial success. The city's business plan requires the facility to produce roughly $1 million a year in profit. The city will use the cash to make payments on loans that financed construction.
If the profit doesn't materialize, the city could hike taxes to cover the losses.
"I don't really have anxiety, not yet anyhow," Gerretsen said.
Councillor Rob Matheson said he doesn't know why the turnout would be so low for event No. 3.
"That's kind of disturbing in hindsight," he said. "Maybe people just thought it was going to be sold out."
Matheson said he isn't concerned this early in the process and he believes the hockey team will improve.
"Once you get a better product on the ice, the fans will follow," he said.
Councillor Vicki Schmolka believes the opening was a success.
"Anxiety over the business plan has been part of me since the business plan was first presented," she said.
Schmolka said she has confidence that the private firm managing the centre knows the market and she's hopeful the community will remain excited about the new venue.
"It's wonderful to have this facility ... but did we bite off too big a piece?" she wondered. "We'll see."
Expectations for profit this year were cut already by roughly 10 per cent.
The city has planned to pocket $89,000 annually from four Frontenacs playoff games. The team likely won't make the post-season this year. Denis Leger, a senior manager at City Hall, said the city isn't banking on that cash this year. The money was cut out of concern about the hockey team's performance.
"We were very conservative and didn't account for any playoff revenue this year," Leger said.
The money will be expected in subsequent year plans.
Leger said the turnout Sunday isn't cause for concern.
"If you look at this venue and the arrangement we have with the Frontenacs, it's over a long term, so the short-term draw on a Sunday afternoon ... doesn't give me any cause for alarm really," he said.
Leger said ongoing low attendance at hockey games might not be a problem.
"What you lose in one in terms of the Frontenacs, then you might build up in another [event] in terms of total revenue, so I'm not overly concerned in terms of the weekend or the first or second showing of the Frontenacs," he said.
Another major concert at the centre, featuring Napanee native Avril Lavigne on April 8, is sold out.