Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thunderbirds on the move . . . next season

From The Daily News of Monday, Sept. 24, 2007 . . .

The Seattle Thunderbirds are on the move and something of a name change may
be in the works.
Oh, it won’t be anything drastic, but it could be that one year from now the
WHL franchise will be known officially as the Seattle Thunderbirds of Kent.
That’s because the Thunderbirds are moving to Kent, Wash., a community of
80,000 located about 20 miles south of Seattle and 20 miles north of Tacoma.
The city of Kent is building a US$80-million arena that will seat 6,025 for
hockey with the Thunderbirds as the primary tenant. The facility, which has
yet to find a naming sponsor, is scheduled to open between Nov. 15, 2008,
and Jan. 14, 2009. Until then, the Thunderbirds will remain in Key Arena, a
facility that seems likely to also loose its NBA team, the SuperSonics, to
Oklahoma City.
“It is relocation but it’s not,” Russ Farwell, the Thunderbirds’ general
manager said Saturday night, “other than the coach (Rob Sumner) and I will
have to move. We have three employees in our office who live in Kent and
they’re the happiest people in the world. They’ve been driving for 40
minutes north and now we’re coming to them.”
Farwell and Colin Campbell, the Thunderbirds’ vice-president and assistant
GM, have been meeting with folks in Kent for quite a while now as this whole
plan came together.
“I’ve been driving to Kent once a week and sometimes three and four times a
week for a year and a half,” Farwell said, adding that he and Campbell
worked hand-in-hand with a steering committee that included the Kent city
manager and “key city people.”
And even though it will be more than a year before the team plays a game in
its new home there is lots of work to be done.
“We’ve met with the school board already. We’ve done some of that stuff,”
Farwell said. “We may be able to keep one billet.
“So we’ve got new billets and school relationships to set up, and we kind of
need a practice situation.”
At one time, thought was given to changing the team’s name and its uniforms,
but the decision was made not to re-brand the entire operation.
“The reason we kept the name is because we feel advertising-wise and all of
those things we can take everyone with us,” Farwell said, referring
primarily to corporate sponsorships. “We consciously thought it’s better to
have Seattle, and the league wanted us to have Seattle.”
But . . . how about the Seattle Thunderbirds of Kent . . . kind of like
baseball’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?
“That’s exactly what we will be looking at,” Farwell said. “Last week we
were at the council meeting and we gave jerseys to all the council members
and we had a Kent patch on one shoulder.”
Farwell said that although the move still is off in the distance, there is
excitement in the air in Kent.
“The city is excited because . . . it was just a sleepy little town with a
two-street downtown,” he explained, “and all of a sudden they have rebuilt
their downtown. They built a complex kitty-corner to the rink that opened
last year; it’s got 11 restaurants in it. It has made the city a
destination point now.
“The whole downtown is going to be rebuilt in a matter of three or four
years. It’s going to be an exciting time.”

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