Vees hopeful to end scrimmage over lease

Fred Harbinson, coach, general manager and president of the Penticton Vees, is confident the team can reach a new lease agreement with the city for the SOEC.  - Western News file photos
Fred Harbinson, coach, general manager and president of the Penticton Vees, is confident the team can reach a new lease agreement with the city for the SOEC.
— image credit: Western News file photos

The City of Penticton could have a new contract with the Penticton Vees as early as this weekend if Fred Harbinson, coach and president of the Vees organization has his way.

The Vees have been in negotiations with the city and Global Spectrum, which manages the South Okanagan Events Centre since their previous contract ran out in March 2013, and the city granted them a one-year extension.

That year is up, and Harbinson said the pace of negotiations has picked up since the Vees 2013-2014 season ended.

Coming off three solid seasons, starting with a record-setting ride to their national championship win in 2012, the Vees are in a solid negotiating position, according to Harbinson.

“There has been a lot of positive momentum built up over the last couple of years with our program, from winning a national championship and having another great year this year and adding to the off-ice product,” said Harbinson.

“There is just so much positive momentum, no one wants to stall that out right now.”

Dean Clarke, general manager of the SOEC for Global Spectrum, said the Vees organization has put a lot of effort into increasing ticket sales, and both their on and off-ice performance.

“They are in a positive situation when it comes to dealing with us, and we’re glad. That’s what we all want, we all want a healthy tenant,” said Clarke.

Mayor Garry Litke said the city is happy with the performance of the team, but there are always two sides to every negotiation.

“The community values its hockey team but the City of Penticton also has to consider the interests of the taxpayer, that is what negotiation is all about,” said Litke.

Harbinson, who was named president last year, said the Vees have risen to the challenges put to them last year about how the business side of the organization was being run, how they marketed games and how they engaged with the community.

“I think it would be pretty hard to say that we didn’t exceed all the expectations,” said Harbinson.

“Our attendance rose, I think the atmosphere in the building was at an all time high. We tried a lot of new things. The biggest thing, I think, was that we identified that it is hard to bring a whole family to a junior hockey game, so we dropped prices to make it affordable.”

Now, Harbinson continued, they need to come to the right deal with Global Spectrum and the city so they can continue on this path.

“People forget this is a business, this isn’t minor hockey,” he said.

“There are teams in different leagues across the country that are losing lots of money right now, so we need a way to make sure we have a fair partnership.

“That will allow us to continue to supply the community with this kind of on-ice product and allow us to keep the prices affordable for everyone.”

A deal can’t come quickly enough for Harbinson.

“On our end we felt we needed to have this done, we want this done before this month is out. I think Tuesday’s meeting brought everything to a head. I think we are real close,” said Harbinson.

“We are just waiting to hammer out the final details. Hopefully we will have an answer sooner than later.

“I need to  worry about building our next hockey team. We’re ready to get going out there and grow.”

“Sooner than later” is a sentiment echoed by Litke and Clarke, who describes the negotiations as being slow and steady.

“My style is to walk instead of run. I feel that if you run into an agreement, you make mistakes. This is very important agreement for the building and we need to make sure we do it right; so it is right for the Vees and right for the SOEC,” said Clarke.

“It may not be as fast as the Vees want it, but it is important to do it right, and I think the Vees understand that.”

Litke was more reticent about the negotiations, though he did agree they are close to a deal.

“I am not going to comment on that until we reach a conclusion. I don’t like making any kind of public comments about contract negotiations,” said Litke, adding that he is always optimistic about every negotiation.


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