Sault’s Memorial Cup budget ‘pushing five million dollars’

Major fundraising drive will target local and national sponsors

The organizing committee for Sault Ste. Marie’s Memorial Cup bid is hoping to have a Ken Danby art exhibition as part of the 2024 event. This is one of the Sault-born artist’s many depictions of Wayne Gretzky, who played for Soo Greyhounds at age 16. Rob O’Flanagan/Village Media

The organizing committee for Sault Ste. Marie’s 2024 Memorial Cup bid scored a $300,000 contribution this week from city council.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what local organizers are hoping to raise for the honour of hosting the prestigious hockey championship.

In total, the amount of funding needed to make sure we can put on a world-class event, including all of the various activities in the community, is pushing $5 million,” Tim Lukenda, president and governor of Soo Greyhounds Hockey Club, told city councillors on Monday.

Lukenda is co-chairing the local bid committee along with Dr. Frank S. Sarlo, author of Hound Town: One of the Best Hockey Towns Anywhere.

Sarlo is considered an expert on the kind of community mobilizations needed to win things like the Memorial Cup, having also written a 350-page doctoral thesis for the University of Bristol that provides rare backroom insights into how important initiatives like the Group Health Centre are made to happen in a place like Sault Ste. Marie.

The Sault’s Memorial Cup bid application is due at the end of this month, and Lukenda and Sarlo are scrambling to lock in as much of the needed cash prior to that deadline.

What we’re trying to do is firm up as many sources of funding as we can in advance of our formal submission,” Lukenda told city council on Monday.

Other revenue sources being pursued include the Province of Ontario, Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, national and local sponsorships, as well as ticket sales.

Tickets will be sold mostly as part of package deals but will also be available for individual games“, Lukenda said.

2024 will be the Ontario Hockey League’s year to host the Memorial Cup, and three other OHL teams are preparing bids: Kingston Frontenacs, Niagara IceDogs and Saginaw Spirit.

Historically, this is the kind of event that was generally favoured for larger communities, for a lot of reasons,” Lukenda said.

But more recently, I think the Canadian Hockey League has realized the merits of considering other communities  such as ours, that are so vested in their local team.

There are OHL teams with much larger arenas than Sault Ste. Marie’s, for example London Knights.

But Lukenda says other Ontario host bids involve arenas generally the same size as ours, or slightly larger.

What we’re trying to do is distinguish our bid by emphasizing the small-town benefits.

This would be a community-wide effort.

We have a great arena that’s well-sized for the community, and I don’t believe it’s a material detriment in the scheme of things“, he said.

More than 500 volunteers will be needed to run the 10-day event, and the organizing group will have 15 committees.

A number of measures are being considered to express appreciation to the community for hosting the Cup:

  • a community legacy, possibly a statue or monument to inspire youth participation in hockey
  • a charitable donation, possibly for mental health and addictions, based on 50-50 draws during games
  • additional charity donations from a possible local exhibition of Ken Danby art

After formal bids are received on Jan. 31, local organizers won’t be allowed to make a formal presentation to Memorial Cup officials.

Instead, a follow-up session for questions will take place, most likely by videoconference.

A decision on the host city will be made in March.

Tom Vair, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services, said on Monday that the city will get its $300,000 donation back if our application to host the Memorial Cup is unsuccessful.

Frank Sarlo was personally involved in bringing the unforgettable 1993 Memorial Cup here.

Sarlo wrote about the Soo Greyhounds winning that year’s Cup in his book Hound Town, and Ward 1 Coun. Sonny Spina was talking this week about reading Sarlo’s account of the ’93 championship.

“As I was reading that passage, I could smell myself being there.”

I could feel the ice. I could feel the cold at the old Memorial Gardens.” Spina said.

Thirty years later, I think it’s time the youth of our community had the chance to experience that again.

Lukenda says: “It’s still talked about in the league as one of the best Memorial Cups ever.

It’s a feeling we want to recapture. It’s a whole new generation of hockey fans and citizens.

It’s something we want to bring back to benefit the community as a whole.

Article by David Hekwig

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