City officials hope they can swing a deal that would give hockey fans an unobstructed view of the ice surface in the West Valley Event Center.
City Manager John Patterson said last week the city is negotiating with a Toronto company to install a state-of-the-art, frameless dasher-board system in the arena for about the same price as a paneled system like the one now used in the Delta Center.The frameless system, manufactured by Crystaplex, is the rage in new National Hockey League build-ings because it does not rely on the aluminum support rods, called mullions, found in most hockey arenas. The mullions, thick dividers that hold separate glass or Plexiglas panels in place, are a nuisance to television cameras and fans alike, especially those seated near the ice.
Patterson said Crystaplex, a division of Laird Plastics Inc., has tentatively offered to give the city a huge break on the price of the dasher boards if it also gets the bid for the dasher-board system to be installed at a planned practice ice sheet on the city's west side.
Two NHL arenas that opened this year, in Vancouver and Montreal, have the frameless glass system, as does Denver's McNichols Arena, home of the Colorado Ava-lanche.
The Utah Grizzlies, who play in the International Hockey League, are scheduled to begin playing in the Event Center in the fall of 1997. They would be the first IHL team to have the seamless dasher system.
"It certainly would be a big step for our league," said Tim Bryant, communications director for the IHL. "You lose the obstructions of the partitions between each (glass panel) and it just seems to be a more appealing way to watch a game."
The system is especially attractive to a television audience and the TV executives who decide which games to broadcast, he said. When local stations choose which road games to televise and when the Sports Channel/Prime Network select games to cover, the frameless system could make Utah a more attractive option, Bryant said. More television coverage could translate into more exposure for advertisers and could enhance the marketability of the franchise.
The expansion Grand Rapids (Mich.) Griffins will begin IHL play next fall in a new $60 million, 11,000-seat building, but city officials there decided against the frameless system.
Jim Gray, project manager for the Van Andle Arena, said it takes more people and more time to break down the Crystaplex system. And since the arena also will be home to Grand Rapids' Continental Basketball Association team as well as other events, the system would be more of a liability than a benefit, he said.
Likewise, the new FleetCenter in Boston, which houses the NHL's Boston Bruins and the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics, does not use the system.
"It's a much more time-consuming process, and we felt it would affect our turnover time on change-overs," said John Rebelo, the FleetCenter's logistics manager. "One (problem) is the weight of the glass. What we have is a rod-and-glass system, and it's very easy. It can be done with four people in a matter of an hour.
"Other arenas that do not do as many changeovers as we have can certainly go with (the frameless system). That would be better for their patrons."
West Valley officials say they will need to hold about 70 other events in the arena each year if the Event Center is to pay for itself. Tim Mouser, the Grizzlies' general manager, said he does not believe installing and maintaining the system would be difficult.
Mouser said a typical panel-style dasher-board system costs about $130,000 to $140,000. The Crystaplex system costs about $250,000. He said the company may be willing to give West Valley City more than a $100,000 price break in part because of the exposure its system would receive as part of an Olympic Winter Games facility. The arena's budget for the dasher-board system is $150,000, he said.
A deal with Crystaplex should be worked out by early next week, Mouser said.
"We're taking the necessary steps to make this a hockey-perfect building," Mouser said. "We've said all along this building needs to be state-of-the-art and this will help accomplish that."
The $53.3 million West Valley arena will be the site of short-track speed skating and ice hockey during the 2002 Olympics.