The First Arena is a 3,784-seat multi-purpose facility that features two ice surfaces, a full-service restaurant and bar, a food service center for the recreational rink, video game arcade, 31 luxury suites, party/group outing facilities, and meeting/community rooms among other amenities. located in downtown Elmira, New York. The arena opened in 2000 as the Coach USA Center and changed names to the First Arena in 2004. It has been home to the Elmira Enforcers of the Federal Prospects Hockey League since 2018, and was home to the Elmira Jackals from its opening until 2017. It is located on the corner of W. Gray Street and N. Main Street.
|Former names||Coach USA Center (2000–2004)|
|Location||155 North Main Street|
Elmira, New York 14901
|Owner||Elm Arena LLC|
|Operator||Elm Arena LLC|
|Capacity||3,784 (ice hockey)|
|Broke ground||November 24, 1999|
|Opened||November 11, 2000|
|Construction cost||$16 million|
($23.3 million in 2018 dollars)
|Architect||BBB Architects Ltd.|
|Services engineer||The Mitchell Partnership, Inc.|
|General contractor||Welliver McGuire|
|Elmira Jackals (UHL/ECHL) (2000–2017)|
Elmira Enforcers (FPHL) (2018–present)
On March 2, 1998, Elmira city officials announced Lauridon Sports Management as the developed and operator the city's $11.6 million proposed arena. By September, the Midtown Plaza on North Main Street was selected as the site for the arena. Lauridon then committed $5 million to the $15 million project. In July 1999, five downtown businesses were notified of eviction from their properties and Elmira City Council unanimously voted to begin eminent domain proceedings against Paul Navestad, the only property owner whom the city could not reach an agreement. Demolition began on September 21. Thomas Freeman, president of Coach USA Transit Services, signed an agreement to pay $1 million for the arena to be called the Coach USA Center. By October 4, the Chemung County Legislature requested the $7.25 million promised by Lauridon Sports Management and its private investor for the project, Mostafa Afr of Ann Arbor, Michigan, must be in place by December 1, or the county would pull its $1.25 million in support for the project. On October 26: Key Bank approved Afr's application for a $7.25 million loan to help build the center. The arena then held its groundbreaking ceremony on November 24, 1999.
On January 28, 2000, the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency closed on the county's $1.25 million loan to the project and the rest of the financing was completed in February with the Afrs and a vice president from Key Bank in Albany closed on a $5.5 million loan. Tamer Afr, Mostafa Afr's son and business partner, announced that Global Spectrum had replaced Lauridon Sports Management as the arena facility manager. This lasted three months before they announced that SMG would manage the arena instead. The City Council also approved a roof design for the project in June 2000 that increased the estimated cost of the arena to $16 million.
On March 27, 2000, the United Hockey League awarded an expansion franchise to Elmira to begin play in the 2000–01 season. The team name was revealed as the Elmira Jackals. The Twin Tier Amateur Hockey Association and Tamer Afr also signed a contract for youth hockey to be played at the arena. On November 11, the first event is held at the center when the Jackals played their home opener against the Knoxville Speed. The Moody Blues were the first musical entertainment at the arena the following night.
In October 2003, the Coach USA Center was renamed First Arena. In April 2006, Mostafa Afr announced that Robbie Nichols would take over operation of both First Arena and the Jackals. He became the arena's eighth general manager in less than six years and its fourth manager in the past year.
Financial troubles (2007–2016)
On October 31, 2007, Elmira Downtown Arena (EDA), the arena operator, entered into an Installment Agreement to pay taxes on which it had defaulted. EDA then defaulted on the agreement on March 31, 2008. From 2009 to 2011, the arena continued to fail to pay its taxes. On January 17, 2012, the 4:30 p.m. deadline passed to pay $123,849 in overdue taxes and a foreclosure order was then signed by Chemung County Court judge Peter Buckley, starting a "redemption period" that was to end February 29. During that period, Southern Tier Economic Development (STED), the arena's owner, could get the property back by paying the overdue tax balance plus a 10% penalty totaling $136,234. On March 12, the county legislature voted to table an attempt by STED to buy back the arena. The legislature also called for the hiring of a consultant to investigate the arena's financial status and physical condition.
The EDA responded on March 22, 2012, by filing a lawsuit against Chemung County, county executive Tom Santulli, county treasurer Joseph Sartori and STED to try to force the county to accept the repurchase offer on the arena. EDA and M-Team LLC, a Michigan corporation, also filed a lawsuit against former arena general manager Robbie Nichols and former assistant general manager Donald Lewis alleging they attempted to sabotage the arena operator, the Jackals and First Arena. EDA and Key Bank filed two more lawsuits in April accusing the county of not following proper procedure in administering its foreclosure process. County judge Judith O'Shea dismissed the lawsuit filed March 22 against county officials and the suit filed against Nichols and Lewis. On May 17, 2012, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Tamer Afr for EDA, Santulli for the county and Kevin Keeley as president of STED that allowed the Jackals to play in the facility during the 2012–13 season. The agreement also allowed EDA to continue operating the arena but gave the county the same rights as STED to oversee arena operations.
On February 5, 2013, officials announced that Elm Arena LLC, a group headed by Tom Freeman, president of First Air in Big Flats, had been named as the new operator of First Arena, replacing the Afr family. The agreement ended all pending litigation. On April 10, the Jackals held a press conference to name Tom Freeman and Nathan Cook the new owners of the First Arena and the Jackals. In September 2014, the Jackals were donated from Freeman to a private non-profit community organization, Twin Tiers Economic Development (TTED), a 30-member board to oversee the organization.
Chemung County operated (2016–present)
On January 28, 2016, the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) entered into an "option to purchase agreement" with a down payment of $300,000, giving the IDA time to consider all factors and options about the future of the arena. The IDA then assumed temporary ownership of First Arena and the Jackals until a new owner can be found beginning in April 2016. The IDA gave tours of the facility to several potential buyers hoping to be in a position to select a buyer by late July or early August 2016. However, no purchase proposals were received by the June 24 deadline. Negotiations continued with three interested parties. On August 24, the process had been narrowed to one party, who was also interested in buying the Jackals. The IDA hoped to complete the transaction by January 2017.
In January 2017, the Chemung County legislature voted to maintain the arena to be open to the public but asked the Elmira City Council to contribute nearly $1.5 million of taxpayer money over five years to repair the ice plant and repay back bills. They council voted against it saying that doing so would require a 3% property tax increase. The Chemung County IDA sarguedys that they only had enough funds to operate the arena for another week. On February 10, the IDA presented a counteroffer to the Elmira City Council asking for $750,000 to repair the ice plant. They indicated that an answer is required by close of business on February 13, but extended the deadline for an answer from the city to the morning of February 16. The council decided that they would be unable to provide any financial assistance to the county for First Arena. The IDA hoped to be able to keep the arena open until the Jackals' season ends in mid-April.
On March 7, the potential buyer dropped the request for taxpayer funding. The buyer also needed to submit paperwork to the ECHL by March 9 to ask for approval for a change in ownership, and to affirm that the Jackals would play the next season. On March 10, it was announced that local businessman Brian Barrett would take ownership of First Arena, but the Jackals would cease operations at the conclusion of the 2016–17 season. Finalization of the deal was contingent upon the new owner obtaining another hockey franchise. Possibilities were from an announced new amateur league called the International Developmental Hockey League (IDHL), which listed a team called the Elmira Express on its web site, or the Federal Hockey League, a low-level professional league. The Jackals played their final game on April 8, 2017. On June 27, 2017, Barrett backed out of negotiations for buying the arena.
On July 5, 2017, Elmira Pioneers co-owner and former Jackals coach and general manager Robbie Nichols expressed a desire to bring a Federal Hockey League team to Elmira for the 2017–18 season. However, after meeting with county officials and the IDA, Nichols announced that they could not come to an agreement and the plan was put on hold. Robbie Nichols offered to lease the arena for a minimum of two years but the IDA rejected the proposal, saying it would leave them financially exposed. The IDA presented a counter proposal to Nichols, which he and his group rejected.
On October 3, 2017, the City of Elmira approved a resolution proposed by the IDA to apply for a "Restore New York" grant to help repair the arena's ice plant and roof. The repairs were intended to help the IDA get the building up to par so it can be sold. Only cities can apply for such a grant. In January 2018, the IDA was still trying to get professional or college hockey into First Arena, focusing on Elmira College, located a few blocks from the arena, whose team was using the Murray Athletic Center, eight miles from campus.
On June 25, 2018, the IDA reopened negotiations with Robbie Nichols to bring a Federal Hockey League team to Elmira with Nichols leasing the arena, not purchasing it. On July 17, Nichols and the IDA announced that Nichols would lease the arena for a year with renewals for the following two years and an option to purchase. Nichols brought in a Federal Hockey League (FHL) franchise and intends to hold other events. The new FHL team was announced as the Elmira Enforcers and began play in the 2018–19 season.
First Arena is mostly known for the Elmira Jackals ice hockey team that competed in the ECHL and the United Hockey League between 2000 and 2017. First Arena has also hosted many other sporting events such as basketball, X-treme Ice Racing, and pro wrestling from WWE and TNA Wrestling.
In 2018, the minor professional Elmira Enforcers began play as a member of the Federal Hockey League. The team is owned by Elmira Pioneers co-owner Robbie Nichols, who also has the option to purchase the arena.
The arena also hosts musical acts, family productions, and many other large entertainment performances such as concerts and circuses.
The following is a partial list of notable concerts and other entertainment events that have taken place at First Arena:
- November 20, 2000 – Moody Blues
- December 18, 2001 – Kenny Rogers Christmas Show
- April 2002 – UHL finals: Elmira Jackals vs. Muskegon Fury
- November 9, 2002 – Bob Dylan
- April 2004 – UHL finals: Elmira Jackals vs. Muskegon Fury
- April 8, 2004 – Godsmack, Ill Niño & Dropbox
- December 17, 2005 – Fall Brawl Tour: Staind, P.O.D., Taproot & Flyleaf
- January 2006 – Dora The Explorer
- March 2006 – NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament
- October 19, 2006 – Dierks Bentley along with Miranda Lambert
- December 22, – Kenny Rogers Concert
- January – Labatt All-Star Challenge
- March 8, 2008 – Larry the Cable Guy
- April 18, 2008 – Larry The Cable Guy
- December 13, 2008 – Vince Gill & Amy Grant Christmas
- January 2–4, – Disney on Ice
- January 16, 2009 – Bill Engvall
- October 24, 2009 – Lamb of God, GWAR & Job for a Cowboy
- October 27, 2009 – Willie Nelson
- December 12, 2009 – Kenny Rogers
- April 15, 2010 – Three Days Grace, Chevelle, & Adelita's Way
- October 17, 2013 – Air Supply
- April 1, 2016 – Eli Young Band, Austin Moody
- September 26, 2016 – Alice Cooper
- Finger, Ray (February 6, 2013). "Arena Deal Draws Cheers in Elmira". Star-Gazette. Elmira. Archived from the original on February 12, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- "ECHL Team Directory". Archived from the original on 2016-01-21. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
- Quinn, Kelley (November 24, 1999). "Arean Project Will Kick Into High Gear". Star-Gazette. Elmira. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
- Kosnac, Erin (January 18, 2004). "Afr Seeks Bankruptcy Protection". The Times Herald. Port Huron. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 2, 2019.
- The Mitchell Partnership, Inc. - First Arena
- "Welliver McGuire - Projects". Archived from the original on 2012-04-02. Retrieved 2011-09-23.
- "Chemung County IDA Considering Buying First Arena". WENY News. January 28, 2016. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
- "First Arena under new temporary ownership". WENY News. 28 Apr 2016. Retrieved 28 Apr 2016.
- "IDA Seeks Proposals For Purchase of First Arena". WETM News. 24 May 2016. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- "Potential buyers get up close with First Arena". Elmira Star Gazette. June 2, 2016. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- "Search For New First Arena Owner Narrowed To One Prospect". WETM News. August 24, 2016. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
- "First Arena One Step Closer to Getting New Owner". WETM News. December 16, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2016.
- "First Arena deal remains in the works". Elmira Star-Gazette. January 10, 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
- "ARENA MAY GO DARK: Sale in jeopardy, official says". Elmira Star-Gazette. February 7, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
- "First Arena Counteroffer in the Works". WETM News. February 10, 2017. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- "City Denies Counter Offer to Help First Arena". WETM News. February 16, 2017. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
- "DENIED: Elmira won't help fund First Arena". Elmira Star-Gazette. February 16, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
- "Local Union Supports City Turning Down First Arena Deal". WETM News. February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
- "Deadline Approaching on First Area Deal". WETM News. March 7, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
- "First Arena has Buyer, Elmira Jackals to Fold". WENY News. March 10, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- "FIRST ARENA: New owner, but Jackals leaving". Elmira Star-Gazette. March 10, 2017. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
- "First Arena buyer withdraws from negotiations". Star-Gazette. June 27, 2017.
- "Pioneers Co-Owner Robbie Nichols Talks FHL Hockey in Elmira". WETM News. July 5, 2017. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
- "Robbie Nichols Update on FHL Coming to Elmira". WETM News. July 5, 2017. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
- "Robbie Nichols Rejection of IDA Hockey Deal Proposal". WETM News. July 14, 2017. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
- "No deal for pro hockey team in Elmira". Star-Gazette. July 14, 2017.
- "City approves to apply for First Arena grant". WENY News. October 3, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
- "Chemung County IDA works to provide a bright future for First Arena". WENY News. January 24, 2018. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- "Professional hockey returns to Elmira's First Arena". Star Gazette. July 17, 2018.