The City of Cranbrook has filed a lawsuit against the Winnipeg Ice and the WHL seeking compensation for breaking a lease agreement when the major-junior franchise relocated to Manitoba following league approval in 2019.
The lawsuit, filed by the city on Dec. 24 in B.C. Supreme Court, seeks a few different types of financial relief stemming from lost income due to the relocation of the Kootenay Ice from Cranbrook to Winnipeg, a move which broke a license of occupation agreement with Western Financial Place that had four additional years left in the terms of the contract.
According to the lawsuit, the Ice provided an annual average of $178,333 over a five-year period to the City in fees, other revenue and advertising income. The city also says it incurred $15,167 in one-time expenses when the Ice relocated, due to having to prematurely restore condition of the premises.
Additionally, the city is also seeking replacement income that was lost between the Ice’s relocation and the announcement of a new tenant with the arrival of the BCHL’s Cranbrook Bucks, as well as pre-judgment interest on damages.
The lawsuit also takes aim at the WHL, alleging that the league induced the contract breaches, knowing that the city would lose revenue when the Board of Governors approved the franchise relocation.
The city declined to comment further on the lawsuit, until it is allowed to move through the courts.
The Townsman has reached out to the Winnipeg Ice and the WHL for comment.
The WHL legacy in Cranbrook
The Kootenay Ice arrived in Cranbrook in 1998, following a relocation from Edmonton.
Under the leadership of Ed Chynoweth and his son, Jeff, the franchise won three WHL championship titles along with a Memorial Cup in 2002.
Alumni include players such as Jarret Stoll, a longtime NHLer who two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings, and Sam Reinhart, who was selected second overall in the NHL Draft and currently plays for the Buffalo Sabres.
In 2008, the club signed a 15-year license of occupation with the City of Cranbrook to play out of Western Financial Place, guaranteeing revenue to the city based off a scaling attendance threshold from $20,000 to $120,000 as well as a basic occupancy fee for each year of the term equal to two per cent of the Gross Game Receipts for each WHL season.
Under the terms of the agreement, the city also received all revenue generated from concessions stands and parking lot fees. Additionally, the agreement stipulated that the city receives 20 per cent of of net advertising income generated by the club and 100 per cent of the advertising revenue generated outside the premise, including the restaurant, swimming pool, commercial/retail space, common areas and arena naming rights.
After years of speculation regarding a franchise sale or relocation, the Kootenay Ice was purchased by Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes, a pair of Winnipeg investors, in 2017. The license of occupation agreement with the Kootenay Ice Hockey Club was assigned by the city to the new ownership group a few months after the club’s sale.
Following the sale, the club played two more WHL seasons in Western Financial Place before announcing the planned relocation midway through the second year.
At the time of the relocation announcement, WHL commissioner Ron Robison said the league had been assessing attendance at Western Financial Place dating back to 2011, when the arena failed to sell out during a league championship run.
During a press conference announcing the move, Robison stressed that it was a WHL decision to relocate the the franchise to Winnipeg.
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