The company that ran the Toronto Roadrunners last season is being kicked out of its arena for defaulting on its lease, but the president of the club's National Hockey League parent says the minor-league affiliate's future in Toronto is secure.
Coliseum Renovation Corp. ran the American Hockey League's Roadrunners for the Edmonton Oilers last season. Its lease of Ricoh Coliseum is being terminated by the landlord, BPC Coliseum Corp., for failing to meet its payments.
The Oilers will negotiate new financial arrangements for the franchise with BPC.
Oilers president Patrick LaForge said the cancellation of CRC's sublease of the building effectively changes the party that the NHL club deals with directly, but does not indicate at all that the Roadrunners could leave Toronto.
LaForge expects BPC -- also known as Borealis, a subsidiary of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System -- will simply take over as the landlord of the club.
"By and large, it means nothing to us," LaForge said in an interview from Edmonton, calling the franchise's future in Toronto as solid as a rock. "The Oilers' relationship through the Roadrunners will be with Borealis."
Under a complex financial arrangement, BPC leases the building from the City of Toronto and, in turn, subleased it to CRC. CRC paid the Oilers a franchise fee in exchange for the supply of players, coaches and other Roadrunners staff.
According to BPC, which last year oversaw the $38-million renovation of the historical Coliseum Building at Exhibition Place into an AHL-size arena, CRC "was unable to meet its sublease obligations."
But LaForge said there's no move afoot to relocate the franchise. The City of Toronto last year granted the Roadrunners a lease for 49 years at Ricoh.
However, CRC's departure from Ricoh could mean the end of Ernie Coetzee's one-year stint as the president of the Roadrunners. Coetzee is a minority owner and the president of both the Roadrunners and CRC.
"If CRC is not there and they don't have the lease, then he'll be gone," LaForge said.
Coetzee had been credited for helping bring the AHL to Toronto. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
LaForge said CRC's failure to pay its bills was not a case of the company not having enough money. He said CRC had been trying to cut a new sublease agreement with Borealis and later decided not to continue making payments without a new deal.
In a statement, BPC spokesman Michael Rolland said his company is "committed to the Roadrunners suiting up at the Ricoh Coliseum next season."
"We regret that CRC was unable to meet its sublease obligations, but we were very pleased with the team's performance last season, and we remain committed to a strong AHL presence in the facility for many years to come," Rolland said. "We believe that a city the size of Toronto can support and deserves the high quality of hockey that the AHL delivers. From our perspective, it's business as usual."
In addition to hockey, Ricoh Coliseum has been host to such events as a Bob Dylan concert and a Festival on Ice featuring Olympic gold medalists Jamie Salé and David Pelletier.
However, attendance at Roadrunners games last season fell below the AHL average. The Roadrunners drew 183,486 fans for 40 regular-season games, an average of 4,587 fans, putting it 19th out of 28 teams in the league, which had average attendance of 5,594.
Recent Roadrunners marketing campaigns for next season have been promoting the fact that the AHL will be in operation whether or not the NHL season is put on hold after a potential lockout or strike by NHL players. The NHL's contract with its players will expire in mid-September.
"We have made a significant investment in a major Toronto landmark, and we now have a world-class facility not only for hockey, but capable of hosting a wide spectrum of sporting and entertainment activities," Rolland said.