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Hockey club and Sarnia at odds over lease agreement

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Troy Shantz

The brass at the Sarnia Sting say the hockey team wants to renegotiate a lease at the city’s premier arena but will first need to resolve some irritants with City Hall.

Club CFO Gord Currie shared a list of complaints with city council on Feb. 11 that include poor communication, unpaid invoices and maintenance problems at the Progressive Auto Sales Arena.

“I don’t want the Sting going anywhere. We’d like to continue to operate in the PASA facility, however it’s got to be efficient, it’s got to be managed proactively,” he said.

The Sting and city signed a lease and revenue sharing agreement when Sarnia assumed operation of the arena in 2014. That agreement ends June 30, but would renew automatically if nothing changes.

One of the club’s concerns is a leaky roof at the 5,500-capacity arena, which Currie said threatens a new score clock the team purchased in 2017.

He also claimed requests made to city staff for better arena upkeep on game days, including the washrooms, have been ignored.

Parks and recreation director Rob Harwood appeared taken aback by the complaints and told councillors the city has met all its responsibilities to the Ontario Hockey League club.

“As I explained to the team, we don’t have the funding to be able to do everything that we would like to do, so we take every opportunity to stretch every nickel into a dime,” he said.

He acknowledged a roof leak but said it’s in a different area that doesn’t threaten the new clock, and he rejected a claim the city was responsible for removing the old one.

Many of the concerns the club brought to council, Harwood added, have not been shared at weekly meetings with city staff.

The city owns the 26-year old arena and oversees maintenance, concessions and the restaurant. The Sting control the box office, and both parties share revenue from ad sales, private box bookings and naming rights.

According to Currie, the hockey club contributes about $3 million to the community annually. He didn’t discuss the Sting’s own finances but noted the average OHL club has profits of less than $100,000 annually.

Currie said the team would like more control and revenue from private box sales, which have declined significantly, and wondered if a $1.50 ticket surcharge the city collects for operations could go instead to capital improvements.

Coun. Mike Stark asked if the team would consider a bigger role in booking non-hockey events. Sting president Bill Abercrombie seemed interested but added team owners Derian Hatcher and David Legwand would have final say.

Mayor Mike Bradley said better communication could prevent such issues from being aired in council chambers.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish,” replied Harwood.

“We obviously want to work well with the Sting and I honestly thought that we had been.”

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