ALTHOUGH Winnipeg might be ready for an NHL franchise, the MTS Centre might not.
Eyes have turned to the six-year-old downtown arena as the next domino that has to drop to remove any concern that the city and the MTS Centre aren't ready to host an NHL franchise and keep it.
The MTS Centre seats only 15,015 people, which would be the smallest arena in the NHL should a team relocate to Winnipeg. The worry since it opened in 2004 is that it would have to be expanded.
Speculation now is that True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman, to operate the MTS Centre as an NHL venue, needs to increase seating and other amenities, which is where he might need help from the province.
A provincial spokesman said Monday the province would not comment on what support Chipman needs from the government to satisfy the NHL a team is economically viable in Winnipeg. The province is also not commenting on discussions in Arizona over the future of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Premier Greg Selinger was unavailable to comment on a report last week that the Coyotes' price tag was $165 million and that the province would be involved in financing a purchase. Selinger left the legislature early on a personal matter.
"Premier Selinger has kept in regular contact with Mark Chipman since last fall when the NHL closed on its purchase of the Phoenix Coyotes and he continues to be briefed regularly on the subject," a spokesman said. "However, as True North said in its statement last week, the situation in Phoenix is very uncertain at the moment. Until that becomes clear, there is no specific proposal or opportunity to talk about."
The province has done a lot of heavy lifting already, said John Loewen, who headed the Manitoba Entertainment Complex group in 1994 that attempted to buy the Winnipeg Jets and keep them in the city. The deal fell through for a number of reasons and the team left.
"The province helped get the building built," Loewen said of the MTS Centre.
The City of Winnipeg contributed $14.5 million, the province $14 million, and Ottawa $12 million to the $133.5 million cost of building the MTS Centre.
Loewen, a Progressive Conservative MLA from 1999 to 2005, said Chipman is quietly putting the city in a position so that when an NHL franchise does become available, Winnipeg is at the top of the list.
"The bottom line is if it can work in Edmonton, it can work in Winnipeg," Loewen said. "It's a lot closer than it's ever been."
Wilf Falk, Manitoba's chief statistician, said the province is a different place than it was 15 years ago.
The big change is in population growth. Between 16,000 to 17,000 immigrants now come to Manitoba each year and fewer young people are leaving to work in other provinces.
There are also more temporary workers coming to Manitoba than before and more international students, who are being encouraged by the government to become permanent residents. The birth rate is the highest it's been in 15 years.
"Are we getting hockey fans? Some yeah, a lot no," Falk said. "But I sense we feel pretty good about ourselves."
Median total income by family 2007 (1995 in brackets):
Manitoba $62,070 ($43,758)
Canada $66,550 ($46,951)
1995 -- Winnipeg 630,200 (684,300 including surrounding metropolitan area)
2010 (forecast)-- Winnipeg 683,200 (751,800 including surrounding metropolitan area)
Corporation income taxes (as revenue to province):
1996-97 -- $172.7 million
2009-10 -- $346.6 million
Personal disposable income per capita:
Place 1995 2008
Manitoba $16,730 $27,318
Canada $17,696 $28,559
8.2% -- 1996 5.2% -- April 2010
Tickets and capacity:
Vancouver Canucks (playoff) $509.50 to $155.50; GM Place capacity 18,810
Calgary Flames $228.75 to $31.75; Saddledome capacity 19,289
Edmonton Oilers $235 to $38.50; Rexall Place capacity 17,000
Toronto Maple Leafs 2008 ticket average US$76.15; Air Canada Centre capacity 18,800
Montreal Canadiens (playoff) $372 to $54; Bell Centre capacity 21,273
Ottawa Senators $300 to $14; Scotiabank Place capacity 20,500
MTS Centre capacity is 15,015. The expanded Winnipeg Arena's capacity was 15,565, but it did not have corporate boxes like the MTS Centre does.