Kingston City Council backs Memorial Cup bid

At a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, members of Kingston City Council voted unanimously to support the Kingston Frontenacs’ bid to host the 2024 Memorial Cup tournament at the Leon’s Centre. The vote means the City of Kingston will provide approximately $635,000 in funding for the event, should the Frontenacs be awarded the tournament.

The Memorial Cup is the marquee event for the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) season, with champions from the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) facing off against the host team for the national championship. The event typically takes place over 10 days in late May.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Council heard from Marijo Cuerrier, Executive Director of the Downtown Kingston! Business Improvement Area (BIA), who explained that an event like the Memorial Cup could bring significant economic activity to the downtown core at a time when many businesses are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Recovery for small business is still several years away… The Memorial Cup has the potential to pump over $20.4 million into the local and regional economy, much of which will be in downtown Kingston. This could be the difference between survival and closing for some of our businesses.”

Cuerrier added, “The Memorial Cup will give the City of Kingston and the region national exposure at a critical time after travel and tourism [have] been devastated and travellers are looking for options closer to home.”

The Downtown BIA Executive Director also noted that Kingston has a long history of successfully hosting major sporting events, such as the 2015 Canadian National Figure Skating Championships and the 2020 Tim Hortons Brier, the latter of which generated an estimated $8.2 million of economic activity for the city during the 10-day competition.

Following Currier’s presentation, councillors heard from representatives from the bid itself, who outlined the various events and activities that would accompany the tournament. “The Memorial Cup is more than just hockey games,” said Brian Hope, chair of the bid’s Accommodations Committee. “it’s a 10-day event extravaganza, [and] it’s a whole lot of fun. There are the Memorial Cup opening ceremonies, the arrival of the Memorial Cup… There’s a big fan fest.”

Hope also said that a Memorial Cup in Kingston should generate strong attendance figures. “As you know, about two and a half hours away or less [from Kingston are] Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa… so we anticipate very high attendance at these games.”

When it came time for questions, Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos asked representatives where the Memorial Cup ranks in comparison to similar events hosted at the Leon’s Centre in recent years, such as the 2020 Tim Hortons Brier and the 2013 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. “In your experience with the two massive curling tournaments that we held… where would you put this in relation to that event, which is by far our largest thus far?”

In response, Krista LeClair, Executive Director of Sales for Kingston Accommodation Partners (KAP), explained that figures from the 2019 Memorial Cup in Halifax were “almost… double” what the city of Kingston experienced during the 2020 Brier. Organizers expect the 2024 Memorial Cup to generate similar figures to Halifax’s numbers. It should be noted that Halifax’s arena has a capacity of 11,093, while Kingston’s Leon’s Centre can only accommodate a maximum of 5,700 fans, meaning individual game attendance will likely be lower than when the tournament was in Halifax.

In terms of event logistics, Trillium District Councillor Jimmy Hassan asked whether there was a plan in place for parking in the downtown core during the tournament, to which LeClair responded that organizers would work with the City on a plan to encourage the use of Kingston Transit during the tournament, as was the case during the 2020 Brier. “Like the Brier, we would work really closely with City staff… to encourage transit. With the Brier we encouraged guests to take buses downtown as opposed to driving, and I think that worked really well.”

Nicole Kemp of the Kingston Frontenacs addresses City councillors at a meeting on Jan. 17, 2023. Screen captured image.

Councillors also had the opportunity to hear from Nicole Kemp, Assistant Vice-President of Business Operations for the Kingston Frontenacs, who explained that the team has planned several special events this season in honour of the club’s 50th anniversary. “This year we have started the season by hosting a home opener that included a street closure in front of the Leon’s Centre, which we would again request as we move forward. It was well received and had probably 300 [to] 500 people who came pre-game to enjoy some food and beverage [and] live local entertainment.”

Should Kingston be awarded next year’s Memorial Cup, the team would be guaranteed a spot in the tournament, which would mark the Frontenacs’ first-ever appearance in the event. Kemp addressed the efforts made by management to build a strong team on the ice. “Our team will be ready. [General Manager] Kory Cooper has put a lot of effort into preparing for next year. We have a great young team; they’ve been with us for two years, and next year will be even stronger.”

Following the delegations, a brief debate occurred, with councillors expressing their support for the bid. “I think that the delegations have made an excellent case for this… I support this bid and Go Fronts,” remarked Kingscourt-Rideau Councillor Brandon Tozzo.

Countryside District Councillor Gary Oosterhof said, “The part I really am excited for is the opportunity for a broader economic impact across eastern Ontario, and that is something to be celebrated.”

Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme spoke about the potential for widespread economic impacts that could result from the tournament. “When you look at the dollar amount we’re being asked to contribute, it is very small in the grand scheme of what this will bring back to the city.”

Council ultimately voted unanimously to support the 2024 Memorial Cup bid. As part of its input for the tournament, the City of Kingston will provide $374,000 worth of in-kind contributions, in order to offset “facility and equipment rental fees, staffing costs, and enhanced and extended municipal services across City departments,” noted a staff report.

City Council will also incorporate $261,000 into the 2024 municipal operational budget, which will be funded through the City’s Working Fund Reserve. The staff report recommending Council’s support for the bid noted that funding is dependent on Kingston being awarded the tournament and that funding will not have a direct impact on the property tax rate.

Following Tuesday night’s vote, organizers will now prepare the official bid package, which is to be submitted to the CHL by the end of January 2023. League officials are expected to announce the host city for the 2024 Memorial Cup sometime this March. Kingston is currently up against Niagara, Sault Ste. Marie, and Saginaw, Michigan for the rights to host the tournament.

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