Stagnant lease talks leaves Clippers future in Nanaimo unclear

By Dominic Abassi
March 14, 2017 - 2:22pm

The Clippers and City will have to come together to guarantee Jr. A hockey in Nanaimo next season.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — The Clippers won't be displaced by a Western Hockey League (WHL) team, but their future in Nanaimo depends on smooth contract negotiations with the City.

The Clippers' lease at Frank Crane Arena and an advertising revenue agreement with the City both expired this year. With the events centre dominating focus for the last six months, only limited talks on a new deal have taken place.

"It's been one of my highest priorities to get this lease renewed since I came aboard last summer," David LeNeveu, Clippers president, told NanaimoNewsNOW.

LeNeveu said Clippers owner and governor Ken Wagner is headed to Nanaimo to take part in discussions, expected to get going this week. "We're waiting for them (City) to confirm the meeting. We have our idea how we'd like to proceed with it. They haven't come back to us with how they want to proceed so we're just waiting on that."

He said the organization is "relieved" after the referendum result put an end to the WHL's potential move to Nanaimo, which would have ended the Clippers 45-year tenure. LeNeveu said some of their staff were "strained" not knowing what their future held beyond this season.

"We were operating as normally as possible, but there was a lot of resistance on the corporate and season ticket sales because we didn't know how we were going to be operating moving forward," LeNeveu said.

One of the biggest factors in the negotiations will surround advertising revenue for signage at Frank Crane Arena.

Richard Harding, Nanaimo's director of parks and rec, said in the past the City took a percentage of the Clippers revenue. That hasn't been happening for the last seven years, in exchange for the team paying for upgrades to the arena.

"It will be in the mix of course, it's very common in other junior 'A' agreements, that some of the advertising comes back," Harding said. "Prior to this agreement it was always a percentage."

The City would not notice a financial shortfall or have unfilled ice without the Clippers as Frank Crane's major tenant, Harding said. However, he said there is a huge list of intangibles the team provides to the community. "They've been a key component to the hockey community...if I started with one, I'd probably miss 20."

Harding said it's "difficult to comment" on how the events centre process has impacted the City's efforts to work on a new deal with the Clippers. "We always knew we would be discussing it at some point, regardless of the events centre."

BCHL commissioner John Grisdale said it's been "difficult sitting on the sideline knowing one of our anchor franchises is going into a season without a contract, without discussion."

Grisdale said he plans to meet with Clippers ownership this week to discuss their plans.

"They have the ability to go dark, to not operate, to remain in Nanaimo or look at moving their club," Grisdale said. "It's a little disappointing if you get a feeling that their (team owners) efforts in those communities aren't respected. I hope these negotiations can get back on track and the Clippers continue to operate in the BCHL."

The Clippers have scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon. LeNeveu described the event as a "major announcement" related to the future of the team.


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