Brandon’s state-of-the-art new J&G Homes Arena is nearing completion.
The rink, which is located on Patricia Avenue and 34th Street in the Rural Municipality of Cornwallis, will host an under-15 AAA game on Saturday, and then after any final bugs are ironed out, will open to public bookings next week. Construction began on the 42,985-square-foot facility in March after the ground was excavated in late February.
Jared Jacobson spearheaded the development through the J&G Group. Experience has shown that building a rink is a dubious way of making money — they are notoriously expensive endeavours with razor-thin profit margins — but he said the project goes well beyond that kind of thinking.
"We’re a real estate developer," Jacobson said. "We’re not looking at this as a short-term major profit centre. It’s a long-term investment for the community and for our group of companies. It’s sticking your neck out on the line for a major investment but the support we’ve had from Hockey Brandon and the community in booking the ice and supporting the facility, and the co-operation from the city and Hydro and everybody else, it shows that everyone is in, including the banks.
"It’s nice to see. It makes you feel a lot better when you’re building this size of project."
He added the RM of Cornwallis also played an invaluable role in the construction of the facility, particularly as the city extended services beyond its current borders.
"Cornwallis has been super helpful and super co-operative to speed things up to let us make this happen," Jacobson said. "It’s been great."
The date for the grand opening hasn’t yet been determined.
The arena was bustling with workers on Thursday afternoon as the final preparations are made for the soft open on Saturday.
Construction of the multi-million dollar building — the exact cost isn’t being made public — almost exclusively employed local companies and staff. Jacobson said that was a priority.
"We tried to keep it as local as possible and support the community during these times," Jacobson said. "It’s been well received. Everybody got a piece of it that had the ability to perform out here. It’s been great that way."
The building is geared towards the Western Canada Hockey Academy (WCHA), with a classroom, full workout facility and multi-purpose room inside, and a running track and pickleball, volleyball and basketball courts located outside.
A big part of the experience is the focus on technology.
"We want to be five to 10 years ahead of ourselves because we know technology moves so fast, and you have to stay ahead of it," Jacobson said. "It’s just the way kids learn and the way the hockey industry is going with all the analytics, I thought it was very important to include technology, not only for the players, but for the coaches, to develop coaches in the community too.
"They have to adapt to the new technologies and analytics to enhance the player experience and develop players faster and better."
The rink, which is the standard 60.96-by 25.9-metre (200 by 85 feet) that National Hockey League teams play on, has an electric ice-surfacing machine coming. There is also a custom-made, ride-on Zamboni for two shooting bays, which they are calling mini-rinks.
There are six dressing rooms, plus separate facilities for the U15 AAA Wheat Kings and the U18 programs.
The benches are wider and have see-through plexiglass, which is specifically designed to accommodate sledge hockey players as well.
In terms of game-day features, the arena has four show lights and two smoke machines, is LED lit and has the large video wall. There is a camera mounted above centre ice and each goal, with handheld cameras all able to provide images to the jumbotron, which will surely provide a unique adventure to youngsters who might never play more competitively than house league hockey.
"It’s the overall game experience that this place is going to provide for the kids in the whole region and how exciting it’s going to be to come to a game with the lights and the fogger and the video replays," WCHA instructor Dave Lewis said. "It’s an experience these kids never had before. You see it at Wheat Kings games and maybe (Winnipeg) Jets games but to actually live it, I think you’re going to see a lot of smiles on a lot of kids’ faces."
For fans, there will be more than 300 seats mounted on the upper level all along one side of the rink, but they are hung up in transport and haven’t arrived yet. There will also be standing room for several hundred people.
The exact capacity of the building is still being determined.
In addition, the Kings Kitchen, which is located at the end of the rink opposite the Zamboni bay, will be the final piece of the puzzle to be completed. It will be flanked by an outdoor patio, with a Starbucks kiosk just above it up the stairs.
In the summer, you may see junior and pro players at the arena, because it offers one-stop shopping with the ice, training facility, track and restaurant.
One current drawback about the location is that motorists will hit gravel to get to the rink, although there’s a lot less if you head south on 34th Street rather than driving west on Patricia Avenue from 18th Street.
When asked about what he spent on the project, which has plenty of space available for future growth, Jacobson suggested the more important topic is what Westman gains.
"To me it’s not about what the cost was, it’s about what we get out of it for the community," Jacobson said. "It’s not what we personally get out of it, it’s what the community gets out of it. The fulfilment is most important to our family. We don’t want the recognition. We appreciate the thank yous but we also want to see the community grow and prosper. That’s the main thing."