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Council rejects staff report, wants better deal for Surrey Eagles

‘I’m absolutely ecstatic,’ says hockey team owner Ron Brar
Surrey Eagles players and assistant coach Scott Gomez (standing, right) listen to head coach/GM Cam Keith during a practice at South Surrey Arena on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey council has sent a proposed partnering, license and operating agreement with the Surrey Eagles back to city staff to be re-worked after councillors argued that the terms as presented weren’t sweet enough for the BCHL hockey team.

The rejected plan, involving the Eagles’ use of the South Surrey Arena, which has been the Junior A hockey team’s home ice since 1992, was contained in a report by Laurie Cavan, Surrey’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, and Kam Grewal, the city’s general manager of finance. Under the proposed agreement, the City of Surrey would have provided a grant payment of $92,500 per year to the team.

“Based on an internal evaluation, the annual rent for the proposed lease of office space, storage, and dressing room area is estimated to be $44,000 and the annual value of advertising space is estimated to be $100,000,” the report states.

Ron Brar, co-owner of the Surrey Eagles with his brother TJ Brar, said Thursday he is encouraged by the politicians’ response. “I’m absolutely ecstatic,” he told the Now-Leader. “When I heard they sent it back to look at ways of working with the city better, I thought to myself man, this is amazing that the council is doing that and they value what we’re bringing to the city in terms of having the kids off the street and coming to the Eagles games, and having families come to the Eagles games and creating a real buzz in the city that wasn’t there before. But mostly how we are impacting the community, right.”

Coun. Gordon Hepner said at the Monday, Sept. 25 regular council meeting that he went to an “absolutely fantastic” Eagles’ game recently and later spoke with the owner.

“The deal that was struck certainly with the city I think is hampering the ability for him actually have a profitable organization. He is currently losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year,” Hepner told council.

“This is a BCHL team. We can’t have a deal, a joint adventure and a lease agreement that is so hampering on business that it doesn’t attract the type of asset that we have here in Surrey.”

Hepner said he wants the city to strike a deal “that makes sense.”

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Coun. Linda Annis agreed.

“I look at Surrey Eagles owners as stewardship of the team. The team really belongs to the residents of Surrey,” she said. “This is an opportunity for families that can’t go to Canucks’ games or to go to other games to really be able to have a great family experience right here in Surrey. You know the owner has been very generous with getting kids that are at risk being able to come there, and adults that can’t afford.”

Annis said the city needs to take a “much stronger” partnership role with the Eagles as the team is “one of the treasures that Surrey has.”

“Nobody buys one of these hockey teams to make money, they’re doing it because they want to give back to the community and I think it’s incumbent on the city to at least meet them half way.”

She said she’d hate to see the team move on because it’s not getting the support from Surrey “that it would get elsewhere.”

Coun. Harry Bains echoed Hepner and Annis. “I think the city needs more events and things like the Surrey Eagles,” he said. “I would like to see an agreement that allows that owner to succeed and to continue to provide the service long-term, so I would like to see a deal that works better for the owner as well.”

Coun. Doug Elford voiced “some trepidations.”

“If we delay this, are we putting the city at risk?”

Staff replied that the city currently manages its contract with the Eagles on a month-by-month basis so there’s no compromising their functioning right now.

Coun. Mike Bose, who spent 30 years coaching hockey and 60 years playing it, said other hockey organizations need the Eagles because it’s “the desire of every kid who plays hockey at a young age to make it to that level.”

“The BC Hockey League is where these kids want to go, from as far away as Rochester, New York, Florida, New Jersey, California, and even Canadian provinces and B.C. itself,” Bose said. “The BC Hockey League is the premier league, and we need to treat this team like it is a premier Canadian hockey team.

“One of the things that bothers me the most about Canada and hockey is we talk about it being a religion and being part of our soul,” Bose added, “yet you go around and find so many rinks with so few bodies in them and here we have an opportunity to fill a rink that was built to have this team. That was it’s purpose in this city.”

Meantime, Brar said his organization wants to “engage more in our community, do more for the public.

“I think one of the biggest things that we’re trying to encourage is the ability to have more space for sponsors in our facility here. This year, with all the renovations and everthing else, there’s a lot of sponsorship spots that were removed, a lot of the ability for us to try and build revenue. We understand that we’re going to lose a certain amount of money as an entity, right, but our biggest focus is that if we’re going to lose money we want to make sure that our community benefits from it, that we can have as many non-profits and have as many volunteer groups, high schools and elementary schools all attend Surrey Eagles games.

“So we don’t want to have anyone who can’t afford to a game, not be able to come to come to a game. We need them to be here,” Brar said. “And so, we want to be able to give more than half of our tickets to families in need.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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