Kraken franchise to flaunt hi-tech arena


Seattle Kraken new arena franchise team Image: Seattle Kraken, OVG & NHL

Residents of Coachella Valley in southern California (US) can soon look forward to a surfeit of games and amusement at their very own state-of-the-art sports and entertainment arena.

Plans for the hi-tech project were announced recently by the Los Angeles-based global venue development, advisory and investment company for sports and live entertainment industries Oak View Group (OVG) and the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, located in Palm Desert, California, is a facilitator that helps others to accomplish their goals and often awards financial and real estate support for educational, health and social services.

The futuristic arena will be the future home of the Seattle Kraken’s American Hockey League (AHL) franchise and will include an adjoining training facility as well as community gathering spaces.

The privately financed project will be constructed on land owned by the Foundation and will work with a change in the timeline of completion.

The Seattle Kraken is a professional ice hockey expansion team which is slated to compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Pacific Division, beginning with the league’s 2021-22 season.

The National Hockey League is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The NHL is considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.

The American Hockey League is a professional ice hockey league based in the United States and Canada that serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL. Since the 2010-11 seasons, every team in the league has an affiliation agreement with one NHL team.

The new arena is different from the one conceptualized in late 2019. The earlier proposal was for an arena located on 16 acres of tribal land in downtown Palm Springs belonging to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, a federally recognized tribe. The new facility will sit centrally and will make the AHL games, a string of world class musical acts and family entertainment more accessible to fans across the nine cities of Coachella Valley including Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Coachella.

Douglass A. Vance, Vice-President of Real Estate for the private Foundation that generously supports educational and other charitable projects in the region, informed, “The Berger Foundation has always seen the potential of this property. We prepared the land many years ago for a project exactly like this arena and ancillary businesses and have since been actively seeking developers to create a world-class campus for the Coachella Valley and its visitors.”

Sod-turning and construction work is set to get rolling in 2021. The project will see the light of day during the last quarter of 2022 with the Kraken’s inaugural AHL Palm Springs franchise targeting to begin play in the 2022-23 seasons.

Kraken General Manager (GM) Ron Francis and Assistant GM Ricky Olczyk are examining all options for finding other competition options for a certain number of reserve players during the 2021-22 NHL season, including the possibility of sharing an AHL roster with another NHL team.

The arena and complex will be housed on 43-plus acres of land at the Interstate 10 and Cook Street in Riverside County near the City of Palm Desert. The arena will be a massive 300,000 plus square feet and will boast 10,000-plus seats. Modern suites and premium hospitality clubs will be add-ons to look forward to. The arena and adjacent facility will serve as a year-round community gathering space apart from the training center for the AHL team and a future site for youth hockey, figure skating, adult skating and other community-friendly activities.

Tim Leiweke, CEO, OVG, stated, “After more than a year of good faith negotiations we were unable to finalize an agreement with the Agua Caliente tribal leaders for OVG to lease, develop and operate the privately-funded arena. We appreciate the ongoing support and encouragement from the community and are very pleased to be partnering with the Berger Foundation who shares our vision for creating a world-class venue for the Coachella Valley and what will be one of the most premier music and professional sports arenas in the world.”

Commented Francis, “We’re excited the deal is done and Palm Springs will be our home for the AHL franchise. We will be doing everything we need to do on the development front, from top to bottom, for the good of the organization. We will be engaged and in communication with every player in our organization.”

Olczyk elucidated that all 18 and 19-year-old players selected by the Kraken in the 2021 NHL Amateur Draft who fail to make it to the NHL roster will be required to return to their Tier A or Tier B junior hockey teams, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college hockey teams or, in the case of European players, to their respective teams in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany and several more nations on that continent. The rule encourages further development of young players’ growing body and further sharpening their hockey skills.

Olczyk explained, “Only a handful of draftees make NHL rosters in a typical year. In fact, some seasons, you might even have a thumb or pinkie finger left after counting. It is extremely difficult to make the NHL roster [as a teen]. These are talented young players but for the most part they are not physically, emotionally or psychologically mature enough to play against men who might be five, 10 or even 15 years older with stronger bodies and deep hockey skills and experience.”

Olczyk added that the Kraken hockey operations group will have “full control of developing all of our players” drafted or acquired in 2021 and beyond. He expressed similar sentiments like Francis for an expected best-of-AHL arena and state-of-the-art training complex.

Tod Leiweke, Kraken CEO, remarked, “On behalf of David Bonderman and our ownership group we are excited to share this vision of a championship AHL franchise in a spectacular arena in one of the most beautiful communities. This new arena will offer a great game day experience from parking to puck drop. We will engage our fans in the Valley starting with the Kraken’s launch in 2021 as we sequentially build toward the launch of our AHL franchise.”

The COVID 19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to Coachella Valley’s remaining ice rink, the Desert Castle in Cathedral City, which shut shop in March after 10 years of operation.

The planned venue comes as a piece of good news for the area figure skaters who will continue to train for high-level competition, along with youth hockey players – who presently travel extensively – to compete at the upcoming facility. This is one among several reasons why Riverside County officials are overjoyed at the announcement.

V Manuel Perez, Riverside County Supervisor for the Fourth District, which covers the nine cities of Coachella Valley plus Blythe (US), commented, “We look forward to working with all stakeholders in doing everything possible at the county level to be helpful and supportive. Along with county staff from the Transportation and Land Management Agency, my office has been in discussions with the visionaries of the project to bring world-class hockey to the region plus have a positive quality of life impact for the entire county.”

One of the advantages of the Berger Foundation site is shorter travel distance for all Valley residents who want to watch an AHL game, the strong line-up of performers that will be entertaining at the 10,000-seat arena, participate in youth programs or enjoy a family entertainment show. Music plans feature not only concerts but also include some bands using the facility for pre-national tour rehearsals and residencies, which will include multiple appearances at the new arena.

Said Irving Azoff, Co-founder, OVG, and a long-time manager of dozens of the world’s numero uno musicians and bands, “As a local La Quinta resident, I am excited about having a world-class arena built. The venue will be a major must-play destination for top talent and will also be the ultimate fan-friendly showcase for both the Valley’s sports and entertainment attendees.”

Live Nation, the world’s leading live entertainment company, will work as a strategic partner and supply the Valley’s new arena with its large stable of top touring artistes and premium live events.

Bob Rouz, President, Live Nation, US concerts, remarked, “We’re proud to work with Oak View Group and the Berger Foundation on what will no doubt be an amazing venue. This new arena creates the opportunity for the whole region to enjoy incredible concerts and our entire touring team is truly excited and looking forward to delivering a significant calendar of annual concert events.”

The arena will also host conventions, large meetings, international events, award shows and exhibitions at no risk to Riverside County taxpayers apart from sports and entertainment. Construction of the new arena is expected to give a shot in the arm to economic growth along with generating hundreds of permanent and temporary jobs for the community.

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