The Grande Prairie Storm has asked the city for more than $223,000 in concessions so the team can return to good financial standing.
The ask comes in three parts. The club wants the city to waive the cost of rink usage for youth hockey development (approximately $35,000) and the Bonnetts Energy Centre facility fee for the 2023/2024 season (approximately $30,000). The organization also requested the city forgive a loan with a balance of $158,794.
“The reality is we will not make it through another year without help,” said Jordan Johnsen, Storm treasurer, at the InvestGP committee meeting on June 20.
City council decided at its regular council meeting June 26 to grant part of the Storm’s request, waiving fees for the Bonnetts Centre and city rink usage.
Council passed additional motions, pausing the requirement of the Storm to pay the loan and incurring interest until council decides on how to move forward. Administration was directed to bring back a report on forgiving or amending the loan.
“I think council is looking to see information come back from administration on what the options are,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton.
She said those could include tourism and operational grants, looking at loan terms and extending the length of the loan.
Much of city council expressed they wanted to see “all the cards on the table” before deciding on the loan request.
Chief Financial Officer Danielle Whiteway said if council were to forgive the loan, the current budget would be impacted.
“It would cause a variance from our breakeven budget. So then you would have to look for other ways to balance (the budget) this year,” said Whiteway.
The team’s 2023-2024 budget shows an operating shortfall of $38,256 and a requirement of $108,000 of additional cash needed to cover loan payments.
Last season the team had a record year for revenue, making $1.3 million; still, the organization has taken on $310,000 in debt due to the pandemic, said Johnsen.
“Some of the debt we took on over COVID is coming due, and it’s really created a big challenge for us,” he said. The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan requires $40,000 to be paid back this year, or the organization will have to pay back the $60,000 received with interest, explained Johnsen.
The city granted the Storm a $200,000 loan in 2019 to be paid over five years; then Storm Business Manager Eric Hein said it was not a handout but a loan to help the organization continue.
The team has asked for funds from the city in the past.
In 2016, the Storm launched the “Save Our Storm” campaign, which resulted in donations from the community and the city forgiving $89,000 in debt.
Grande Prairie Storm Executive Director Nicole Menzies says the organization offers a lot to the community.
“We really take a lot of pride in being the Peace Country’s team.
“Every time I’m with my kids at an Oilers game, there’s a little kid walking by in a Storm toque and McDavid jersey.
“It’s really important for our youth to have this team to look up to aspire to.”
She said the Storm partner with many local charities and players give back with community service; she estimates 800 to 1000 hours in volunteer hours were given last year by the team.
More than 250 children are playing hockey through the Storm and the Junior A team is bringing residents affordable entertainment in the region, said Menzies.
“It’s still one of the least expensive nights out for a family,” she said.
Storm President Murray Toews says the organization is community-owned in that individuals and businesses have put money into the club to keep it alive and ensure that hockey players in the region have a chance to go on to a higher level of play.
“This isn’t a thing you do to make money,” said Toews.
“This program is really here to partner up and put a certain amount of elite kids through to the next level.”
Menzies also noted the Storm is the second most attended Alberta Junior Hockey League team in the league, with more than 1,000 people in attendance at most games.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 29, 2023