QUEBEC CITY - Quebec City took another major step in its quest to regain an NHL franchise with the announcement Sunday afternoon that a deal has been reached to construct a $400 million, 18,000-seat arena complex scheduled to be ready in 2015.
"The dream has finally become a reality," said Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume at a news conference. Construction is set to begin in September. The arena will be located on the site of the old Quebec City Hippodrome.
The arena will be a public-private partnership between the city and Quebecor Media Inc., owner of QMI Agency and Sun Media.
Quebecor President and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau was at the press conference and said the new building, which he referred to as a multifunctional amphitheatre, will be a "source of pride for all citizens of the Quebec City region and for all Quebecers alike."
The deal was reached Friday night, Labeaume said, adding with a smile that Peladeau was a "hard negotiator."
Earlier in the negotiation process, QMI Agency learned that Quebecor will pay $33 million for naming rights and management of the arena. The value of the agreement rises to $63.5 million if Quebec City lands an NHL franchise.
It was unclear on Sunday if the numbers had changed. Neither Peladeau nor Labeaume mentioned the NHL in their speeches on Sunday -- and Labeaume told journalists he would refuse to answer any questions on the subject.
However, it is unlikely the Nordiques were far from their thoughts. The team left Quebec City in 1995 and moved to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche.
Peladeau has made it clear he would be interested in buying a team.
Quebecor undertook a major expansion of its sports holdings in 2011. It launched TVA Sports, a French-language specialty channel that would be the lead broadcaster for a future NHL property.
Quebecor also bought an interest in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team near Montreal.
The new arena will also include a television studio specifically for Quebecor Media.
Now that the arena deal has been finalized, the next step is finding an NHL team to play in it.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told QMI in early March that he recognized how serious Quebec City's mayor and Peladeau were in bringing back an NHL team to the city.
"I am aware of the new TVA Sports network," Bettman said. "I am aware of the efforts of Pierre Karl Peladeau. I am informed of what is going on in my world. I also know that the economic power of Quebec City is much bigger than it was. The studies that I have read have kept me informed. And I know the mayor of Quebec, Mr. (Regis) Labeaume, and I know that he is certainly a determined and opinionated man."
However, Bettman also said that the NHL is not talking about moving any teams at the moment.
"We aren't talking expansion because we are not planning an expansion," Bettman said. "We are comfortable with 30 teams ... We don't like moving teams and, currently, there are no teams available. Maybe one day the circumstances will allow for one but for now, there is nothing available."
The proposed NHL-calibre arena will ensure that if a team does become available, Quebec City will be ready.