OHL dreams? Brantford to study Civic Centre reno plan
In Brantford, it’s a question that never quite stops being asked.
The city is bigger than five of the 17 Ontario communities which currently host Ontario Hockey League teams. It’s centrally located. It has its own place in hockey history, having given the game such legends as Wayne Gretzky and Doug Jarvis.
So why doesn’t it have its own OHL team?
Currently, junior hockey competition in Brantford tops out at junior B. The 99ers – named after Gretzky, of course – compete at that level.
The 99ers play their home games out of the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre. The arena there has a capacity of a little more than 1,000.
There is a much bigger rink closer to the downtown, although it has seen better days. The Brantford Civic Centre has a capacity of almost 3,000, and hosted Brantford’s last OHL entry in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Before major junior hockey could return, the Civic Centre would need to double its seat count, extend its rink and add luxury suites and office space.
“The building’s in pretty good shape for the size of arena it is – but if we have to make major changes, it could be quite costly,” Coun. Dave Neumann said Friday.
Despite those challenges, renovating the Civic Centre is Brantford’s best bet to land an OHL-ready facility, according to the city’s mayor.
“Building a $40-million to $60-million arena for an OHL team is just not going to happen,” Chris Friel said in an interview.
City councillors have voted in favour of moving ahead with exploring a renovation. Friel says there is no chance reno work would actually be undertaken unless a team had already committed to moving to the city.
The current problem, he says, is that every time Brantford civic leaders are approached about OHL possibilities, they’re unable to answer questions about what a renovation would look like and how much it would cost.
“What we want to do is just get to a stage to say ‘Is it feasible to have an NHL-sized rink here?’” Friel said.
“If not, then we’re out of the game.”
Neumann and Friel both say the city regularly fields calls from people putting out feelers about an OHL team. By studying a potential Civic Centre renovation in greater detail, they say, Brantford will be in a better position to answer those calls – one way or ther other.
With reporting by Max Wark