A discussion with THPRD about the status of the dual-sheet facility proposed at the Terpenning Complex yielded some updates. With no meaningful progress to report, Portland’s oft-jaded hockey enthusiasts are undoubtedly thinking “here we go again.” This post won’t make the cynics do an about-face, but it will lay out where we’re at for additional ice sheets.
The rinks were first proposed in 2016, and the entities involved constantly pushed back their completion date without ever putting shovels in the ground. When the Winterhawks first came to THPRD to propose the joint effort between them, THRPD’s board was excited for the opportunity. Since then, THPRD’s board added some new members that are less enthusiastic about a project that continues to linger in limbo. With dwindling support from THPRD, patience for the Winterhawks to close the financial gap of over $5 million is wearing thin.
The Winterhawks anticipated more success with external fundraising from nearby companies like Nike, Intel, Columbia, Leupold & Stevens, and more. Nike in particular was surprisingly disinterested in the hockey rinks considering it is right next door to their campus; only when the proposal resulted in moving and rebuilding the complex’s skatepark did Nike chime in. With the company’s recent focus on skateboarding and other “lifestyle” sports, Nike is more interested in designing a state of the art skatepark than contributing to the hockey facility. There are employees at the company that are hockey fans and players (including an entire team in the adult league at WSC), but they do not appear to have any influence on the philanthropic side of the business.
While it may seem Nike and THRPD’s board are being singled out, we can’t expect the taxpayers and local businesses to foot the bill for a private sports team owned by a billionaire who resides in Canada. The Winterhawks’ owner, Bill Gallacher, believes that because he is used to the public paying for ice rinks all over Canada, we should do the same in Portland. This same attitude is clearly extended to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where his private investment is minimal at best, leaving the public to foot the bill for the building’s disrepair.
Adding all of this up paints a bleak picture for the possibility of the sheets getting built. Indeed, THPRD’s board is preparing an ultimatum for the Winterhawks to either put up or shut up. This could either result in talks shutting down completely, or the Winterhawks covering the gap between total costs and money raised. The saving grace for the hockey community is the fact that the Winterhawks can’t just fall back on the status quo.
The current facility used by the Winterhawks for practice is owned by Jesuit High School, along with the rest of the strip mall and parking lot next to the school. The Winterhawks are in the 3rd year of a 5 year lease agreement, but after that ends, Jesuit could very well choose not to offer another lease and finally start their long-planned expansion. Jesuit’s transformation is not a matter of if, but when. The Winterhawks need to plan ahead for this, and according to sources, they are looking at warehouses on the east side as possible conversions as we speak. Should those plans not be cost-effective, they have no choice to but make the THPRD facility work.
A major roadblock to the THPRD facility is the rising cost of construction; the money committed at this point would cover the original estimate, but not the current projection. With every crane in the sky or housing complex underway around Portland, that drives up the cost for other projects. I’ve personally noticed on regional flights to Idaho and Montana a sizable amount of my fellow passengers are construction workers being flown in to work in Portland. Think about that: it is easier to pay for them to fly in and stay at a hotel (which likely includes a per diem stipend) than to find more construction workers in town. Should the construction market slow down, the cost of building the rinks would decrease to a more reasonable amount.
A potential rationale for the Winterhawks to drag their feet on the THRPD project could be their minimum wage situation. Their attempt to pass a bill through the State Senate exempting them from paying minimum wage to their players was denied, despite claiming that they would not be able to continue operating in Oregon without it. This was either based on faulty information, or a flat out lie, as they didn’t even bother trying again the following session. With no mention of the minimum wage exemption these days, it begs the question: were they waiting for the issue to go away before cementing their position in the area?
On a more positive note, Sherwood Ice Arena is changing ownership, and rumor has it that the new owners hope to have a second sheet underway within two years.* The city of Sherwood is notoriously bureaucratic, and wants to make sure that parking and infrastructure will be in place before construction begins. Adding alcohol sales to the site is supposedly part of the plan as well. (UPDATE: the current owner of Sherwood reached out to debunk these rumors, his response is linked here). Regardless of what happens, Sherwood is too far from the rest of Portland for the Winterhawks to use it as a practice facility, so they still need to figure out their plans. Be it a warehouse conversion (for hopefully two sheets rather than one) or the THRPD plans they originally proposed, we are poised for more sheets of ice in the near future.
The rumored expansion of Sherwood Ice Arena could also allow for more youth and adult tournaments. There are a few tournaments every year for both, but having a second sheet allows for more games, making travel worthwhile for out of town teams. The economic impact of travel tournaments on the surrounding community is well documented. Youth tournaments in Portland usually require the ice at both SIA and WSC, making their coordination difficult. A new adult tournament this upcoming March is doing the same at WSC and Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver, and it looks like it will attract some out of town teams. SIA hosts adult tournaments whenever time allows, usually twice a year, and I can attest to their enjoyability and inclusiveness for adults of all skill levels. There’s also the Rose Cup at Mountain View every June, which fills up quickly with many of the same teams every year.
While the current rink situation in Portland is less than ideal, there are reasons to be optimistic for the future. How exactly it shapes out is up in the air, but there’s really nowhere to go but up. Just keep in mind that the Winterhawks are well aware of their need for a new practice facility; let’s hope they build multiple sheets and make them a cornerstone of the Portland community.
*CORRECTION: the original post was worded in a way that implied the new owners of Sherwood were interviewed for the article. I apologize for the poor composition; everything published about Sherwood was second (or more)-hand information.