Sarnia’s Junior A hockey club scores financial support from city

Operators of the Progressive Auto Sales Arena plan to schedule more entertainment events this year. Here, local motocross champ Cole Thompson competes before a full house in Sarnia during the 2019 Rockstar Energy Arenacross Tour, with a TV audience at Fox Sports looking on. Mike Stergiou Photo

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia Sting President Bill Abercrombie calls it keeping up with the Joneses.

Costly renovations to update and improve the club’s 25-year-old home at Progressive Auto Sales Arena (PASA) are needed for players and fans alike, he says.

“This building is generally in good shape, but other buildings this age in other communities are upgrading and we have to as well,” said Abercrombie.

Sarnia Sting President Bill Abercrombie
Metcalfe Photography

“Reinvestment is necessary.”

Sarnia council recently approved a $1.57-million loan so the Sting can complete renovations on the building’s south side.

At a total cost of $2.17 million, PASA is getting new dressing rooms, new coach’s office, a players’ lounge, a manager’s office and a medical facility.

The admin offices have already been moved to the north end of the arena to make way for the work. Dixin Construction of Sarnia is expected to get started in the next few weeks.

The new loan is in addition to $600,000 already contributed by Sarnia, which owns the building.

“The dressing rooms are a huge issue,” said Abercrombie. They currently have shared shower facilities, which is completely unacceptable, he said.  When finished by Christmas the dressing rooms will finally have dedicated and separate showers and washrooms.

The OHL hockey club will repay the city the $1.57-million loan over seven years at a 3% interest rate. In part, revenue will be generated by a surcharge on each ticket sold. The current $2 surcharge will increase to $3 next season.

Mayor Mike Bradley called the ticket surcharge the ultimate user fee. “The people getting the benefit of the facility will be contributing to the upgrades,” he said.

The loan agreement also calls for the Sting to begin hosting live concerts and other entertainment at PASA.

“The city and the mayor have been clambering to put acts in this building,” said Abercrombie.  “The city can’t underwrite them but we can.”

He’s working with a promoter to bring a Canadian rock band to PASA on May 28. A Christmas show is also planned.

In the past, the 5,500-seat venue hosted an Elton John concert and other special events.

“They were very successful. We hope to bring in about four acts a year from now on,” said Abercrombie.

Entertainment revenue will be split 50/50 with the city.

More entertainment will fulfill the hockey club’s obligation to the municipality and enhance the value of suite rentals, he said.

The Sting is gradually renovating the arena’s 35 suites and intends to spend $250,000 completing the job. Twelve are already finished.

“The result is the suites are sold out. That hasn’t been the case for a long time,” said Abercrombie.

The team replaced the clock and added an LED power ring in recent years at a cost of $700,000. The city continues to replace sections of the roof and will spend more than $1 million on it this year.

It’s all making a big difference in the facility,” said Abercrombie.  “It’s a game changer.”

Like other clubs, the Sting ran “an emotional roller coaster” over the past two seasons with COVID preventing fans from attending many games, he added.

When they could, attendance averaged about 2,900 per game, down just 5% from pre-pandemic attendance and a real show of fan loyalty, Abercrombie said.

Cancelled games also reduced revenue for the renovations, Abercrombie said.

“It’s been wild but we’re hanging on. We’re really thankful to our fans. They are coming back and we are coming out the other side of this.”