For Quebec City, it is starting to set in: The dream of acquiring another NHL franchise, which once seemed far-fetched, has never been closer to coming true.
The province and the city are willing to put money on the table and are urging Ottawa to do the same. A potential owner has shown interest, and soon a business plan will lay out the feasibility of a new arena that will be the key component to attracting a franchise.
After living the nightmare of losing their beloved Nordiques to Colorado in 1995, Quebec City was optimistic that, along with Winnipeg, it was on top of the list to get a National Hockey League franchise.
"Once we have the arena, it will automatically attract a franchise. That's a fundamental element," Sam Hamad, the Minister responsible for the Quebec City region, said Friday. "If we clearly express our intention that we want a franchise, the team can play in the old Coliseum until the new arena is built."
Recent comments by NHL president Gary Bettman clearly signalled the league's intention to consider Quebec City as well as Winnipeg as possible locations for future franchises. Mr. Bettman told CBC's Hockey Night in Canada last week that he regrets allowing the moves of the Nordiques and the Winnipeg Jets.
"I'd like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place," Mr. Bettman said.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest said this was the clearest indication yet that Quebec City was back in the race.
"The economic situation in Quebec City has evolved to the point where now it [an NHL franchise]can be successful," Mr. Charest said. "The city of Quebec does need a new amphitheatre. It isn't normal that this city does not have a modern coliseum. The other thing is that this coliseum should be part of a bid for the Winter Games … and it fits into the scenario of a National Hockey League team returning to Quebec City."
The Quebec government has committed $100-million in the form of a guaranteed loan to investors who are serious about acquiring an existing NHL franchise and moving the team to Quebec City.
The province was also committed to investing another $50-million and even more for the construction of a new arena estimated to cost about $400-million. Mr. Charest said the province would be willing to put more money on the table if private investors are willing to invest in the new arena and if the federal government does the same.
Tough-nosed media mogul Pierre-Karl Péladeau has been working behind the scenes with Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume and Mr. Charest in his bid to acquire a franchise and have a new arena built.
Mr. Péladeau owns Québécor Inc., which controls Sun Media along with the Journal de Québec and the Journal de Montréal, whose unionized staff is in the 17th month of a bitter lockout. Québécor also owns Videotron cable company, TVA television network and has just been granted a licence to operate a new all-sports television network.
An NHL franchise would be a perfect fit for Mr. Péladeau's business plan. "I met with Mr. Péladeau and what he has to propose is quite good," Mr. Charest said.
The firm Ernst & Young was hired to draw up a business plan for the city's projected arena. The plan will define the amounts all levels of government and the private sector will need to invest for the project to be feasible.
In Winnipeg, the $133.5-million MTS Centre cost a lot less than the arena Quebec City is planning. It also involved fewer public funds. The City of Winnipeg contributing $14.5-million to the project, the province $14-million and the federal government $12-million for a total of $40.5-million in public funds.