Monday, June 04, 2007

Battle Creek can’t, won’t finance USHL club

Junior hockey isn’t coming to Battle Creek any time soon.

United States Hockey League team owner Josh Mervis made a presentation to the city May 7 about putting one of the franchises he owns (Louisville is the other) in the Cereal City.

Mervis’ presentation also included Muskegon native and Michigan State sophomore Justin Abdelkader (formerly of the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders) and Sioux City Musketeers owner and USHL chairman of the board Jim Kronschabel.

Still, the odds of a team calling Battle Creek home seem to be slim to none. Dwight Butt, president of the Calhoun County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he's in favor of a privately funded, $35 million, 5,000-seat arena that could be constructed next to the Full Blast recreational facility across from the Kellogg Arena.

Butt said $35 million could go into transforming Kellogg, but Jim Hettinger, president and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, the city's economic development arm, said he can't imagine finding that kind of funding in Michigan’s economy.

"Not in these times, not with the state facing the revenue problems it is, not with the city facing revenue problems," Hettinger said in the Battle Creek Enquirer. "If Bill Gates would come in here and build a $35 million arena, I'd be at the head of the parade."

Hettinger said he's in favor of spending up to $10 million to do a makeover of Kellogg Arena to meet the team's needs or selling and rebuilding The Rink.

"My idea is refurbish, rebuild, retrofit, whatever it may be," Hettinger added. "It's insane to think you could build something new. And to do it without public financing — it's just not a wealthy state anymore."

“I'm ambivalent," said Mervis in the Enquirer. “I just need 3,500 to 4,000 seats, no more. I won't play in it if it's over 4,000 in this community. Every seat over 4,000 will be empty. There are just not enough human beings here for that."

Actually, seats are just the tip of the iceberg for Mervis. He said his team's rink has to have “dynamite sound” and a high-quality video replay board.

"The building is part of the experience," Mervis said during his presentation. "If it's in a dump, no one wants to come."

Courtesy Michigan Hockey's June 4 issue

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