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MTS Centre celebrates a decade as a successful downtown venue

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2014 (1462 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The saviour of downtown Winnipeg -- by many people's standards -- is 10 years old.

The MTS Centre, the $133.5-million arena that started out as the best minor hockey league building in the world when it opened a decade ago, has since hosted nearly 1,400 games, concerts and other events of various kinds and welcomed 9.8 million patrons.

"It's been a wild ride," said Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president of venues and entertainment for True North. "I think it's a milestone that everyone can share. We own and operate (the building) but the public occupies the seats. That's the story behind our success."

The birthday will be celebrated at tonight's Winnipeg Jets game versus the New Jersey Devils, with every fan receiving a commemorative limited edition lithograph in addition to a pair of thundersticks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2014 (1462 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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The saviour of downtown Winnipeg — by many people's standards — is 10 years old.

The MTS Centre, the $133.5-million arena that started out as the best minor hockey league building in the world when it opened a decade ago, has since hosted nearly 1,400 games, concerts and other events of various kinds and welcomed 9.8 million patrons.

"It's been a wild ride," said Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president of venues and entertainment for True North. "I think it's a milestone that everyone can share. We own and operate (the building) but the public occupies the seats. That's the story behind our success."

The birthday will be celebrated at tonight's Winnipeg Jets game versus the New Jersey Devils, with every fan receiving a commemorative limited edition lithograph in addition to a pair of thundersticks.

Ten years after it opened its doors, the MTS Centre is standing tall, hosting nearly 1,400 games and events and bringing 9.8 million people downtown.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ten years after it opened its doors, the MTS Centre is standing tall, hosting nearly 1,400 games and events and bringing 9.8 million people downtown.

From a concert perspective, Donnelly said Winnipeg was often a fly-over or drive-by market a decade ago because the Winnipeg Arena was so antiquated compared to facilities in other cities. Each year in the old barn, he was able to bring in between six and 12 shows, which would typically sell between 3,000 and 10,000 tickets. Now, multiple concerts that sell into five figures are the norm and some of the biggest names in the music business have graced the MTS Centre stage.

Even though he's been in the building for so many great shows and games, Donnelly said there's no question about the most memorable event — the news conference on May 31, 2011, where True North executive chairman Mark Chipman and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the NHL was returning to Winnipeg.

"The most memorable moment had the smallest audience. There were about 100 people at that news conference. It had a profound effect on our business. We have doubled in size in terms of employment (from 95 to 195)," Donnelly said.

But while the MTS Centre is almost universally applauded today, that wasn't always the case. When the site was being bandied about as a possibility for a new arena, a group of opponents went so far as to organize a group hug for the abandoned Eaton's building.

University of Winnipeg political scientist Jim Silver was a hardliner at the forefront when the original Jets left for the Arizona desert in 1996. However, his stance softened over the years as the NHL adopted a salary cap and Winnipeg's economy grew despite the lack of an NHL team.

People protest the demolition of the  old Eaton's building on May 23, 2001.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

People protest the demolition of the old Eaton's building on May 23, 2001.

When the new Jets were on the verge of returning in late May 2011, Silver said as painful as the departure of the original Jets was for many fans, it was necessary to lay the groundwork for the NHL to come back.

"We had a financial mess in the 1990s," Silver said at the time. "We had poured tens of millions of dollars into this and would have faced the prospect of tens of millions of dollars more. All we said is if you have that kind of money to throw around, we have some better uses for it.

"Now we have a management group that is more responsible. The provincial government seems to be more responsible and they're not willing to give up the farm to keep the team. Last time, there was this view that there were all these economic benefits that would flow from keeping the Jets here. We know that's not true and that puts us in a better place now."

Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, said while the MTS Centre may not be the silver bullet to fix all of what ails the central business district, it's a "big piece of the puzzle."

"The MTS Centre has delivered. The days of the Manitoba Moose was our introduction of entertainment to our central core. The MTS Centre has driven a lot of things but perhaps the most important one is it has driven optimism. We track the optimism of the business community and it has hovered near 85 per cent for the last 10 years. That hasn't happened before," he said.

The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie takes the stage at one of the first concerts at the MTS Centre on Nov. 23, 2004.

MARC GALLANT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie takes the stage at one of the first concerts at the MTS Centre on Nov. 23, 2004.

The MTS Centre has allowed the downtown real estate market to strengthen and now building cranes have come off the endangered species list with projects such as the Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED) coming on stream.

"It's like a domino effect. You see more investment coming. The MTS Centre has made us totally rethink how we should be building our downtown and driving to this (population) density that is so important," he said.

There are also many memories at the MTS Centre Donnelly has that can be put in another category altogether, such as the night in 2010 when a couple was ejected from a Motley Crue show for having sex in the upper deck.

"Unfortunately, we have examples of people not using their best judgment with their own behaviour. Without getting specific, we don't have to make any stories up, they're all true," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

What is the best event you have attended at the MTS Centre? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Mark Chipman (right) is congratulated by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after the  May 2011 announcement the NHL was returning  to Winnipeg.

POSTMEDIA

Mark Chipman (right) is congratulated by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after the May 2011 announcement the NHL was returning to Winnipeg.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 6:45 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo, adds question for discussion

7:25 AM: Adds video

1:44 PM: Replaces video player code

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