Cranbrook mayor responds to prospective junior hockey ownership group

Lee Pratt says city council will have a chance to be involved in a lease agreement decision

Cranbrook mayor Lee Pratt responded to allegations raised by a prospective ownership group that says it was denied the opportunity to sublease an existing agreement at Western Financial Place in order to bring junior hockey to the area.

During Monday’s city council meeting, Pratt pushed back against claims that city council would have no influence on the decision to bring a junior hockey franchise to the city — an allegation raised by Colin Sinclair and Kevin Epp.

The two were key members of an ownership group that had been working to bring a franchise with the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League to Cranbrook by subleasing the existing agreement with the Kootenay Ice, the city’s former WHL team that recently relocated to Manitoba.

“The comment that was made that council does not have any position in it is totally false because we’ve been talking all along about what’s been going on with the Kootenay Ice lease and the fact that we have been talking with interested parties about setting up a hockey team here,” said Pratt. “Leisure Services have been looking at what’s best, what’s going on with the lease, where we’re at. We’re negotiating, our lawyers, it’s in the legal hands right now.

“As far as the council goes, it will come to council when there is a lease deal in place with somebody, it will come to council for approval, just like any other lease we have, like at the airport or wherever. So council will be involved with that, at that time.

“But the actual establishment of the lease is not council’s decision because we do not know the intricacies or the operations of Western Financial Place, we’re not privy to all the details and the information of, number one, the Kootenay Ice lease that was in place or any proposals that have been made to the city — we’re not privy to that information, so it’s not within us to make that decision, that’s an operational decision by leisure services.”

The group, led by Sinclair and Epp and others, issued an updated press release earlier this week responding to the city’s statement issued on Friday last week.

As the city noted publicly last week, an announcement on the future of hockey and Western Financial Place will be made in the coming weeks.

The debate over the future of junior hockey in Cranbrook has been roiling ever since the Kootenay Ice announced a relocation to Winnipeg at the end of January.

The group led by Sinclair and Epp went public last week with their attempt to bring some form of junior hockey to Cranbrook. It also includes local business owners and notable personalities such as Scott Niedermayer, Daryl Cuthill, Trevor Gordon, Jason Meisner and Mark Salvador.

The group went public last week, describing its experience working and negotiating with the City of Cranbrook in order to bring a franchise to the area.

The group said it had the support of the AJHL to play out of British Columbia and that BC Hockey had given conditional approval, based on support from the City of Cranbrook, which was allegedly withheld.

The group says it did an extensive feasibility study of operating an AJHL, BCHL and KIJHL franchise in the city, concluding that an AJHL franchise was the most cost-effective option.

Shifting attention to the KIJHL, the group said it attempted to sublease the existing Kootenay Ice agreement to facilitate the relocation of a Jr. B franchise. That option, which they said would have guaranteed the existing Kootenay Ice contractual obligations, was allegedly rejected by the city.

“Our group was surprised by this decision as the denial may put the City’s position to collect any liability owed by the current tenant in jeopardy for the city’s lack of mitigation,” reads part of the Sinclair/Epp release.

According to city staff, a team cannot enter a lease with a city unless it has the appropriate league approval for expansion or relocation.

For the sublease option, the city said it has decided the Kootenay Ice, which relocated Manitoba and rebranded to the Winnipeg Ice, are no longer a tenant at Western Financial Place and no longer have the right to assign a sublease.

“The sublease would be a short bandage rather than a long-term deal and could be a way to enter into an exclusive contract that was determined by the ICE regardless of the team’s qualification,” reads an email response to questions sent to city hall on Wednesday.

“The City of Cranbrook will not comment further on the Sinclair/Epp group’s speculations.”

The city issued a public tender on May 30, 2019, that closed on June 5, 2019. The tender included a questionnaire of 95 queries requesting potential bidders to provide details on aspects such as management and operations, market research, marketing and community engagement, hockey operations, food and beverage, and lease rates.

The Sinclair/Epp group alleged that the city created a process that was targeted on one outcome, an allegation the city pushed back against.

“There was a fair and open process opened through BC Bids and the Sinclair/ Epp group didn’t submit any materials through this public process to the City of Cranbrook,” said the city. “They were made aware of the process by staff and directly asked to submit- which they didn’t do.”

In a press release issued last week, the city said it issued the tender as part of a process to identify and ensure the best long-term fit for the community.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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