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North Bay prepares for OHL team

As North Bay is once again host to an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team, upgrades to its main arena have been put into high gear.
Memorial Gardens in North Bay is getting a $12-million upgrade this year, sparked by an Ontario Hockey League team moving to the city.

As North Bay is once again host to an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team, upgrades to its main arena have been put into high gear.

Memorial Gardens will undergo a $12-million redesign project, to prepare the 56-year-old facility for the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, which is relocating from southern Ontario next season. Work is expected to be completed by late summer.

Peter Chirico, the city’s managing director of community service, said tenders for the general contractor were issued in February.

“We are doing a lot,” he said. “We knew we had to upgrade the Gardens but this (the Battalion relocation), certainly sparked it. It allowed us to put our thinking caps on and make this work, because there were requirements needed for the arena for the OHL to come here.”

The Battalion hockey team is providing a $5-million interest-free loan and the city is seeking $1 million each from FedNor and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. About $4 million will come from the city and there will be a capital surcharge of $2.50 on each ticket for the hockey games and other events.

The portion from the city will be coming from a capital reserve fund, which will have no impact on taxpayers.

About 600 seats will be added to the north end of the arena, along with corporate boxes and a media centre.

“We will be expanding the concourse area around the arena to allow for better flow of traffic,” Chirico said.

Some lounge seating will be added to the two lounges that eventually will be there, and dressing room capacity for both visitor and home teams will be expanded. Additional tenants, Like the Nipissing Lakers hockey teams, will also be accommodated by upgraded facilities.

The ice surface will be shrinking five feet in width and will be lengthened by 10 feet to meet OHL standards.

“Our ice surface is a bit smaller, so this is another part of the renovations,” he said.

New office space and a new facade will be part of the project and the HVAC system will also be upgraded.

“The extra seating will allow for more concerts and conferences and those types of things,” Chirico said. “It couldn’t be done in the past because we didn't have enough seating. Many organizers wanted 5,000 plus for seating and this will give us that. And the improved humidity control, heating and air conditioning will make for a much more comfortable experience.”

The arena currently has about 3,600 seats and the additional ones will bring the total to 4,200. Seating on the ice surface floor will bring the total to more than 5,000.

Despite its age, Chirico said the arena has been maintained over the years.

“We had the commissioner of the OHL up here, David Branch, and he was very impressed with the shape that it was in.

“We have managed to spend strategically over the years in the right places to make sure the arena continues to function and that it is also in good shape moving forward.”

Last fall, the Battalion came to an agreement in principle with the city to move the team to North Bay for the next season.

The 15-year lease in North Bay was contingent on the commitment of at least 2,000 season tickets for the first three seasons and the renovations at the Gardens. The season ticket campaign quickly became a success.

North Bay lost its Centennials OHL team in 2002, when it moved to Michigan and became the Saginaw Spirit.

“The return of OHL hockey is good for the city of North Bay. Being the home of the Battalion will not only contribute to the local economy, it presents the opportunity to put North Bay in the spotlight and enhance our image,” said Mayor Al McDonald in a press release.

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