Wicomico hockey proposal fails to gain traction

The consulting firm hired by county officials last year to identify an ice hockey team that would play at the Civic Center 20 to 30 times each year failed to provide a team before the agreement with the county expired in March.

Last April, County Executive Bob Culver signed an alliance with Paramount Sports President Jim Calpin, who the county touted as having “worked for teams in the U.S. Hockey League and the ECHL, which prior to 2002 was known as the East Coast Hockey League.”

Calpin’s sports consulting firm was said to provide “comprehensive services for the business operations of sports franchises.”

But this week, Steve Miller, Director of the county’s Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism, said the “effort with that consultant didn’t yield with an ownership group or a proposal the county can consider at this time.”

“Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to identify an ownership group to bring a team here. We’re open to other possibilities, but that chapter has expired, that agreement has expired,” Miller said.

He said the reason no team was interested in Wicomico County is a question for the consulting group and one he could not answer.

“This is not necessarily bad news. I think it’s part of doing due diligence,” Miller said.

The consultant did not charge the county, he said.

Culver this week said the county has been contacted by two other organizations that are interested.

“This isn’t over yet. The intent is still to have a hockey team in Wicomico County,” Culver said.

When he met with Calpin last year, the plan was for the ice hockey franchise to begin playing as early as October this year or possibly in 2019, depending on timing of funding and improvements to the Civic Center. This week, Miller said he didn’t know the potential economic benefit of having hockey here.

The plan was for Calpin to organize ownership and serve as a conduit to the county, according to a news release. Wicomico would not be a team owner, but the venue host.

“With regards to looking at the community and looking at the demographic numbers, I feel that it’d be a very, very good fit to have hockey here in this arena,” Calpin said when the agreement was signed last year.

Going back to his 2014 election campaign, Culver has made his support for a hockey franchise well known. Removing the decades-old alcohol-sales restriction at the Civic Center — which he achieved — was a key step in positioning the building for a franchise.

“Several years ago, it was talked about hockey coming to Wicomico County. This is the first light of that day and it has finally come,” Culver said.

The Civic Center would have had to build an ice rink, requiring public funding. Culver, however, said the rink could be used for more than just minor league hockey, including events such as public skates or programs for children.

“We’ll be able to develop youth leagues,” Culver said.

He said ice hockey would be an additional asset to the Civic Center – bringing additional nights of events – and would not take away from existing types of entertainment. “We want to make this a community thing,” he said.

Calpin said two hockey leagues, the Southern Professional Hockey League and the ECHL, were on his radar for Salisbury. The leagues had proven popular in smaller markets.

The Elmira Jackals were among possible candidates.


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