As first reported by NBCPalmSprings.com on Wednesday, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians reached an agreement with the Oak View Group, a venue development company, to construct a privately-financed, 300,000-square-foot arena on Agua Caliente land in downtown Palm Springs. The new arena could seat up to 10,000 people for hockey, as well as suites, hospitality clubs and an adjoining facility that could serve as a “community gathering space” and training center for the proposed hockey team.
Groundbreaking on the new venue is scheduled for February and is expected to open by Fall 2021 in coordination with the Seattle NHL franchise for the 2021-22 AHL season.
With that news, the NHL Seattle group, led by CEO Tod Leiweke, filed an application for expansion with the AHL on Wednesday for a team in Palm Springs.
“The new arena in downtown Palm Springs is a terrific project. If we are successful with our application for an AHL franchise, it would represent an exciting opportunity to bring the first professional hockey team to this region,” Leiweke said. “We are confident that the market is ready to embrace a winter sports team and that the community will help us achieve the minimum level of season tickets and premium sales we need.”
If the application is approved, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be, the new team would be the 32nd American Hockey League franchise.
Logistics played a heavy role in the decision process.
The Palm Springs franchise would also become the seventh franchise in California and Arizona. Additionally, it would put the franchise in an excellent position for fans and teams to day-trip to other venues. Ontario is the closest, a 78-minute drive down Interstate 10. Next closest is San Diego, a 2-hour and 18-minute drive from start to finish. Other venues, Bakersfield and Tucson, are within five hours. Overnights might be required for trips to San Jose and Stockton.
More importantly, it brings five airports into play, all within an hours drive, making it easier for players to move from the AHL to the NHL very quickly. On average, flights to Seattle would take a little more than four hours.
Boise had been the other market widely considered to be moving to the AHL. While it has a solid arena and lodging (CenturyLink Arena is at the bottom of the Grove Hotel,) the franchise would have been on an island, being the farthest northwest AHL team, making flights and cost a factor. Further, the arena would have had to undergo renovations to get ready for the AHL, similar to what the Budweiser Events Center had to do before the Colorado Eagles joined in the league this past season.
For the ECHL, keeping Idaho in the fold, for now, should be considered a win. The league will keep one of it’s better teams both in the standings and at the attendance gate, plus it does not lose another team from an already deserted Mountain Division.