|Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray|
With the Kelowna Rockets on the verge of opening their 20th season in the city, its mayor says the organization has been a marvelous addition to the community.
Walter Gray was a city councilor when the team arrived in Kelowna from Tacoma Washington in the summer of 1995.
"I think the Rockets are an incredible brand for the city. People say what is Kelowna known for? We could say it is known for the symphony orchestra, ballet or beautiful lake. But for 20 years now, or for 15 years when they became very prominent in terms of sports and community profile, the Rockets are right in there in the top five list of what comes to your mind when you think of Kelowna".
Gray became the mayor of Kelowna in 1996 and began the quest of finding a new arena for the team to play out of. Unfortunately for the Rockets, that meant four full seasons in a rundown Memorial Arena before Skyreach Place (Name eventually changed to Prospera Place) was built in 1999.
"They worked out of Memorial Arena for three or four seasons. Probably had we been behind schedule on Prospera Place they would have left town for more fertile ground. Happily, they stayed and they prospered and they deserve to prosper because they are just so connected to the community. The Hamilton's are sort of a family Chamber of Commerce for Kelowna. That is my view of them and therefore their hockey club".
Gray says the team provides a greater sense of pride for its resident.
"This community feels that it is their hockey club. It is like the Riders in Regina. The people of Saskatchewan feel that that's their personal football team. The Hamilton's have been smart enough to recognize that the support comes from the greater community. Support can actually also come from people that either don't have time or even an inclination to go to the game, but if they are out there saying, hey we have a great hockey team or did you know the score last night? That is the thing that keeps pumping up the greater community and it also pumps up the core audience that satisfies the business objectives of the owners of the hockey club. It has been magical", Gray added.
Gray can take some credit for Kelowna winning the right to host the 2004 Memorial Cup. Gray was the only mayor that showed up in a Vancouver hotel in November of 2002 to make a pitch to WHL governors for Kelowna to host the 10 day tournament.
Gray's passionate speech obviously didn't fall on deaf ears.