The Alberni Valley Bulldogs have renewed a five-year contract with the city of Port Alberni, a contract which includes a debt repayment plan for the junior hockey club’s more than $50,000 debt to the city.
The Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society purchased the team in 2012 for $600,000, running the team under a community ownership model. There was some question about the team’s future in 2014, with the team a year behind in paying its ice fee payment to the city.
On Monday, city staff revealed that the team has an outstanding debt with the city for $55,178.22, a debt which had been accumulated between August 2010 and August 2014.
But the society has provided a debt repayment plan that will have the debt paid by the end of the current contract, which runs from Aug. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2021. The society will provide the city annually with postdated cheques in the amount of $1,150 per month, starting on Aug. 15, 2017.
“The debt will be paid off over the next four years,” summarized director of community services Theresa Kingston. “There was never an intent for the Bulldogs not to pay down that debt. They had a lot going on with taking over the club, and other debts as well, and have put together a plan for maintaining the sustainability of the Bulldogs and meeting their obligations.”
The contract also includes a two-percent increase in ice rental rates for the final four years, which is in line with other facilities hosting Junior A teams.
Bulldogs director Darren DeLuca said, “When we bought the team, it was virtually a bankrupt organization.”
He added that there were a lot of uncertainties at the time. “Norske was going broke, Catalyst was going broke, and one of the things we couldn’t let happen was we couldn’t let our team go dark at the same time,” said DeLuca.
Over the last three years, he added, they have been paying off a GST bill of more than $50,000, with a 12-15 percent interest rate.
“We’ve retired that debt this month,” he said. “That was a major objective of ours over that time, to get clear of that.”
Bulldogs business manager Lucas Banton admitted that he has pulled back from his work with the team in the last six to eight months. “I was kind of a resource for them where I could help out a bit,” he said. “I’m pretty much done there.”
When asked if there was a risk of not having a season, he said, “With running any business, there’s always a risk, and the Bulldogs will remain fragile for a few years while they continue to rebuild the business and the hockey side of it. It’s going to be fragile. There’s probably half the BCHL who are in the same boat, where the markets and costs increase faster than you can build new revenue. It’s just the business model is more challenging to run.”
He added that the Bulldogs do use a lot of volunteers.
When they originally bought the team, the society borrowed $100,000 from Community Futures, and that loan has less than three years left on it. The club’s payables are current, and corporate sponsorships are solid. “We have the same amount [of season tickets] sold as we had this time last year,” DeLuca said. The society continues to actively raise funds and pursue grants.
“The society views itself as a service club, and how we serve the community is by putting a Junior A hockey team on the ice,” said DeLuca. He summarized some of the outreach and activities that the Bulldogs provide, such as minor hockey programs, Bulldogs in the Schools and travelling around the province carrying the name “Alberni Valley.”
“It was never our intention to in any way jeopardize the financial security of the Bulldogs,” said Mayor Mike Ruttan. “We haven’t deliberately pushed the repayment of the debt. We had great confidence that you would find a way at some point to pay it back. I’m certainly proud of what you’ve managed to accomplish financially. It would be the envy of other teams around the province.”