Wicomico hopes to lure Minor League hockey

Bob Culver and Jim Calpin, right, president of a major sports marketing company, signed an agreement Friday that clears the way for an ownership group and ice hockey franchise to play home games at the Civic Center, between 20 and 30 times a year.

For Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver, Friday was a day in which he could have yelled: “Shot! Goal!”

Under his leadership, Wicomico County took the first step toward recruiting an ice hockey franchise to the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury.

Culver and the president of a major sports marketing company, Paramount Sports Services, signed an agreement that could ultimately clear the way for an ownership group and ice hockey franchise to play home games at the Civic Center, between 20 and 30 times a year.

Paramount Sports President Jim Calpin has worked for teams in the U.S. Hockey League and the ECHL, which prior to 2002 was known as the East Coast Hockey League. His sports consulting firm provides comprehensive services for the business operations of sports franchises.

Calpin will organize the ownership and serve as a conduit to the county. Wicomico would not be a team owner, but would serve as the venue host. The arrangement would be similar to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, where the county is the owner and the Delmarva Shorebirds are the primary tenants.

Calpin said he and his staff have studied the Delmarva region and believe it can support hockey.

“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.

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 Culver achieved just last year — was a key step in positioning the building for a franchise.

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

The Civic Center would have to build an ice rink, which would require 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.

This first step in the process — finding an appropriate league and an ownership group — comes at no cost to the county. Then, Culver would have to obtain the necessary funding to make building improvements to accommodate both an ice rink and a team.

Some improvements to the building have already been made. Culver on Friday spoke of the Civic Center’s recent progress, including renovations such as new arena seats, painting and floor replacement.

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

The Elmira Jackals are possible candidates for a move to Salisbury.

He said that a team could play at the Civic Center as early as October 2018 or possibly in 2019, depending on the timing of funding and building improvements.

The ECHL, which serves as a “Double-A” for the National Hockey League, is losing a team in Elmira, N.Y., at the end of its current season. Calpin said it is possible that Wicomico County could fill that void, but also believes inclusion in the SPHL could work. Calpin stressed that it was very early in the process.

On his Facebook page, County Councilman Marc Kilmer said the legislative body has not been provided any details by the Executive’s Office on the hockey proposal, but that “hockey could be a good addition to our county.”

Kilmer, who publicly challenged the recent lease extension with the Shorebirds baseball franchise on financial grounds, said “taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize this venture” and that “team owners should pay their own way without asking the taxpayers to support them.”

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