Clippers jockeying for long-term stability


Stability in junior hockey can be tricky at the best of times, but given the time we are in with the COVID-19 pandemic, teams across the BCHL are doing everything they can to stay viable. Securing a long-term lease agreement is one of those key components, however, for the Nanaimo Clippers this is proving to be a difficult task.

The longtime junior A club agreed to a one year lease extension with the City of Nanaimo at the end of July to remain at the Frank Crane Arena through the 2020-21 season.

Outgoing Clippers director of business operations and general manager Tali Campbell stated that while the team is looking for a four or five year lease, he believes the bridge deal is a step in the right direction.

“Anytime you can do a lease extension, it is positive right? It shows that both sides are willing to work together to have the Clippers continue to play out of the Frank Crane Arena, it is our 49th season in the BCHL so it’s always an exciting time when we can get a deal done.”

“It’s not the one we had hoped for or planned for when it comes to our owners Wes and Penny Mussio but nonetheless it’s always good to get an agreement signed on the dotted line.” Campbell pitted all the blame on the pandemic, stalling any previous momentum they had built up with the city.

“We had sent a proposal to the parks and recreation department almost a year ago with several side conversations, and then we were planning to meet in March to discuss what the term would look like. With those proposals, there were a lot of add ons, putting in some more amenities that would work for the club and the city. When conversations restarted in July, both parties agreed that neither side had enough time to go over all the details in the proposal.”

Mayor Leonard Krog speaks on Clippers value

When asked about the issue being faced between the Clippers and the City of Nanaimo, Mayor Leonard Krog mentioned the city has every intention of keeping the team in the Harbour City long-term, however, a lot of balls are still up in the air.

Photo credit: City of Nanaimo

“Obviously, the Clippers are important to Nanaimo, the city supports its hockey but everyone is conscious about what this means (the pandemic) about the short-term for sporting events of every kind, let alone what I call the professional or semi-professional teams that have been in our community for years. It’s a frustrating time.”

“Hockey is important to the city, we want to keep the Clippers and we want to see them succeed as a team but where we are going with COVID as a society, as a community, as a province is hard to say,” added Krog. “Is it going to be better next year? Is it going to be worse? We are not expecting any long term commitments from anybody frankly until things settle out.”

Built in 1975, Frank Crane Arena has been the home of the Clippers and several sports teams for quite some time, but how much longer can the arena remain viable?

The 3,000 seat arena is among the oldest and smallest in the BCHL and has received many upgrades along the way to remain up to current standards.

Photo credit: City of Nanaimo

While a good chunk of the population believes a new arena is long overdue, Krog thinks the long-time home of Nanaimo hockey is part of a much bigger issue.

“The arena actually for its age is actually in pretty good condition. We have made several upgrades in the last ten years, including a new concrete arena floor and brine lines, we installed new boards in 2010 and that was part of a rink grant from the federal government. We even upgraded to have a new low-charge refrigeration plant along with a lighting upgrade this year.”

“The cost of building a new facility of similar or larger size, you are talking about tens of millions of dollars potentially. We have a lot of pressure in the community for various recreational facilities, not just an arena or replacement arena for Frank Crane. Our old guy Frank Crane is still functioning, not as pretty as it once was but still functional and that is still going to be the case for the near future.”

Private money game

Krog also touched on the possibility of seeing a new arena mostly funded by private investors, thus taking much of the burden off the city. The mayor says there have been some conversations on the topic, it’s far from a done deal.

“It’s semi-public knowledge now about some discussions regarding changes to some private land in the community about building an arena. I am not aware of the size, or what is being proposed or anything like that. Obviously, if a private investor came forward to build a facility I think it’s fair to say the city would react very favorably but that’s a big undertaking.”

In March 2017, Nanaimo city council approved a referendum for the construction of a $88 million arena to help solidify a potential Western Hockey League team, either by relocation or expansion. The move could have possibly forced the Clippers to either relocate or fold.

However, the proposed arena was rejected by 80 percent of the voters, and the Clippers were subsequently bought by Vancouver-based lawyer Wes Mussio.

When asked if the failed referendum has played any role in getting a new arena built, Krog quickly shut that notion down. “I don’t think it set it back at all. The arena was seen as way too big by the voters, not suitable for the city, and not well thought through or designed. That thing was essentially stillborn, I hate to say it,  and didn’t reflect the affection or regard the community has for the Clippers.”