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By Chris Lackner
The opening of London's downtown arena has been delayed until September 2002, nine months later than project partners had initially hoped.
Vic Cote, City of London planning commissioner, said September 2002 was the initial finishing date council considered for the project. He said the London Civic Centre Consortium, the City's partner in the project, was pushing for an earlier opening, in December 2001 or January 2002, adding all of the parties were working towards accommodating an early date.
"There were a number of agreements that had to come into place in order to begin construction," Cote said.
He cited operating and managing contracts, the finalization of a sub-lease, contracts over land ownership and a senior loan agreement, among the conditions which still need to be met.
"We always had a contingency plan date," Cote said, adding the early date was an optimistic one. Cote said construction would likely begin by February of 2001.
He added the arena project was complex, due to the various private and public entities involved, including the London Knights, the Consortium and the City of London. "If it was entirely a city project it would be a matter of negotiating with ourselves and just putting legal documents into place," Cote explained.
Arena design plans are progressing reasonably well, but no material or structural steel orders have been made, Cote said. He added all the contracts and elements of the project must be in place before money can flow into the project.
Mark Hunter, co-owner and director of operations for the London Knights, said he was not aware of the contingency date for the arena project. "It would have been nice to know," Hunter said. "They just forgot to mention it to me."
He said City Council's agreement on the issue initially took some time. "The various votes it takes in order to go ahead with the plan tend to back everything up."
Hunter said the new arena opening date eliminates London's chances of hosting the Memorial Cup in 2002. He said the next year Ontario can host the cup is 2005 and is too far away to consider.
London Ward 2 Councillor, Joe Swan, said the initial construction date depended on supplies being delivered in a timely fashion, adding there has been some delay in supplies.
Swan said the City has signed a fixed price contract, but added it was conditional on certain start times. "This delay is confusing for the people involved in this initiative," he said.
Jack Stelpstra, operations manager for Consortium contractor Ellis-Don, said the City and various companies involved have to be safeguarded, to deal with all contingencies before the project can go forward.
Stelpstra said all finite details have to be in place. "All the i's are not dotted and all the t's are not crossed," he explained.
London Deputy Mayor, Anne-Marie DeCicco, said no one should doubt the arena project is a priority for the City. "This is a $40 million project," she said. "It's not something you agree on over night. You can't rush into things."