RALEIGH — On Nov. 18, 2016, Don Waddell — just over two years into his role as president Gale Force Sports & Entertainment — held an impromptu press conference during the first intermission of the Carolina Hurricanes’ home game against the visiting Canadiens to diffuse rumors created by the Montreal media that Raleigh’s NHL franchise was in danger of relocating.
Waddell held the press conference on the fifth floor of PNC Arena — the traveling Montreal media was not invited — and squashed the rumors and concerns about the finances of owner Peter Karmanos Jr.
Fast-forward to Thursday and Waddell — still the team’s president but also now its general manager and working for a new owner, Tom Dundon — announced that the Hurricanes and the Centennial Authority had reached a five-year lease extension that will keep the team at PNC Arena through the 2028-29 NHL season.
“The Authority believes that the Hurricanes are very important to the community,” said Centennial Authority chairman Tom McCormick, who joined Waddell on the arena’s second level bar overlooking an ice-free rink for the announcement. “And that’s why we worked really hard to try to keep them here. We love hockey, we love the Hurricanes, but also having professional sports. … (It’s) one of the conditions of being a first-class, world-class city. Raleigh is that, and we’ll continue to be that.”
The key to the agreement is peace: with five more years added to the lease, the Hurricanes and Centennial Authority — the state government-formed body that oversees the facility — can continue discussions on the future renovations and upgrades to PNC Arena.
“The lease gives us the opportunity now to work with the Centennial Authority as far as talking about some of the amenities that we’ve been exploring, some of the design phases,” Waddell said. “That’ll all come in the next probably 24 months or so, I would say. Nothing’s going to happen real quickly on that.”
It also gives the two sides the chance to discuss if it’s best for the current 20-year-old facility — which Waddell called “a great building” — to be brought into the 21st century or if a new arena makes the most sense. The Hurricanes share the facility with NC State men’s basketball, and the arena, which is managed by Gale Force Sports & Entertainment, also hosts several concerts and events throughout the year.
“It’s clean, it’s been kept up to date as much as it can,” Waddell said, “but we just need some of the new amenities that the new facilities offer. … Is that something that’s realistic here, or would that be a different location? If the decision is made to stay here long-term, I would think all those things would be on the table.”
The agreement also allows the sides to focus on talks about development around the current site. The vision that restaurants, bars, hotels, housing and more would surround the arena property never materialized, but Waddell said that’s something the team would like to further explore if PNC Arena is upgraded or a new facility is built on the same site.
“The big part of it, this area, is trying to develop property around the arena,” Waddell said. “That was talked about back when the building was built in ’99 [when it opened]. And that’s something that Tom Dundon is real excited about, to work with the Centennial Authority on it.”
While there are important discussions ahead, there should at least be no more rumors about the team relocating for a long time.
“We’ve got a lot going for us here in not only Raleigh but the Triangle area,” Waddell said. “And I think with plans of renovating this building or whatever the next steps are, I think we’re all excited about that.”