‘A lot more excitment than fear’: The return of Kelowna’s Prospera Place

Downtown Kelowna arena seeks to open doors to more events in post-COVID era

A photo of Prospera Place in Downtown Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)

Prospera Place has had a silent presence in Kelowna’s downtown core over the last 18 months.

No Kelowna Rockets hockey. No concerts. No events.

The public health restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all that.

And while there has been confusion in recent days about the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry lifting attendance restrictions while Interior Health has kept them in place, Prospera Place is navigating the minefield of that issue and public safety initiatives called for by the province to reboot its re-emergence in the city.

The Kelowna Rockets are playing again, albeit to a half-full crowd limitation, while two concerts have been announced: the Santa’s Wish Tour of the Three Tenors on Nov. 23 and country music star Dierks Bentley on Jan. 20, 2022.

It is a first step for Prospera’s efforts to line up future concert dates with promoters across Canada and the U.S. anxious to get their acts back on the road in Canada after being sidelined by COVID.

READ MORE: Interior Health remains mum on capacity restrictions

George Fadel, senior director, marketing for Prospera Place, says trying to understand the public health rules and adjust to them poses challenges, particularly when they vary wildly between the U.S. and Canada.

“I think a lot of these companies and promoters are kind of analyzing what is going on across Canada…for 2022 we are getting a lot of tentative bookings or requests for dates to be put on hold by promoters for concerts and shows but they are not firm yet,” Fadel said.

“A big step back for us was just getting hockey back in our building.”

Fadel says Prospera faces challenges with staffing, filling part-time jobs for concession and arena support staff evolving around events, like job fairs in recent weeks have attempted to fill those staffing needs.

He acknowledges reopening Prospera to events creates a massive economic stimulus for the city, particularly in the downtown core, and the economic role responsibility that goes along with that.

But COVID has changed the mindset of many people, looking for other entertainment options and concerns about the safety factor of attending live events.

“I think there is a lot more excitement than there is fear. A lot of people now want something to do, they miss the sound of watching sports live or watching their favourite band live, something that has been taken away for so long now,” Fadel said.

“People are anxious more so than not to move on with their lives with whatever the new normal is.”

Prospera Place has created a historical legacy for hosting major concert events since it opened in August of 1999, and Fadel, who took over his new job in January for the GSL Group, that owns Prospera Place under a private-public partnership with the City of Kelowna, feels that brand still holds value in the entertainment industry.

But there is competition not far down the road, as the South Okanagan Events Centre continues to try to “punch above its weight class” in drawing acts to its venue, says Dean Clarke, general manager and regional vice-president of Spectra Venue Management, contracted to operate the arena and Penticton Convention Centre for that city.

“It is difficult for us to absolutely pinpoint what is going to happen,” Clarke said.

“We have hockey back (the Penticton Vees of the BCHL), but having the attendance at half capacity while using the full square footage of the building is a significant expense against the revenue generated.”

From the concert perspective, Clarke shares Fadel’s view that promoters are anxious to get going again, but the dynamics of COVID continue to create some uncertainty if the situation now will be changed in three, six months or a year later.

“We used to thrive on hearing from promoters confirming an event at our venue in advance and knowing it was going to happen. The reality now is not so definite anymore. The thinking is nothing is really confirmed until the act is literally on stage,” Clarke said.

As a city-owned facility, generating a profit is helpful but not the driving force for the SOEC, as also taken into account is the benefit to the local economy generated by events in the facility.

“We have the flexibility to book a show that might just break even, but the benefits to the local business community are also taken into account,” Clarke said.

READ MORE: Interior Health restrictions likely mean B.C.’s lifting of COVID-19 rules delayed locally

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