Raleigh ready to host

2011 NHL All-Star Game a possibility

RALEIGH - After a six-year delay, plans to bring an NHL All-Star Game to the Triangle may finally be back in motion -- a decade after it was originally promised.

Long postponed because of a lack of high-end hotel rooms and convention space, the All-Star Game could be played in Raleigh as soon as 2011. The Carolina Hurricanes and Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau are pushing forward with plans to host the event as the new convention center rises from the south end of downtown and new hotels either are planned or already open in Raleigh and Cary.

With the visitors bureau estimating an economic impact at $10 million, the All-Star Game would draw more than 5,000 NHL guests as the league entertains owners and sponsors on its grandest stage.

Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford and owner Peter Karmanos both spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in January at the All-Star Game in Dallas, and Rutherford said he sent Bettman a letter not long after announcing Carolina's intent to get back into the mix.

"We're hoping we can get back in line," Rutherford said Monday. "I totally understand why there were some concerns. Those concerns have been met, as far as we're concerned. We should be in line again."

In March 2001, Bettman promised the Hurricanes the right to host an All-Star Game within five years as the prize offered to fans for a successful season-ticket campaign. In August 2002, the team asked the NHL to push the commitment back to 2007 due to the issues with hotel and convention space.

Atlanta will host in 2008 and Montreal in 2009. With no All-Star Game in 2010 so NHL players can participate in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, 2011 is the earliest date available to the Triangle. The league also owes Phoenix one to replace the game wiped out by the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Since Bettman's original promise, the Hurricanes have hosted the 2004 NHL Draft and two Stanley Cup finals series at the RBC Center.

With The Umstead luxury hotel in operation on the SAS campus in Cary, a 400-room Marriott hotel and the Lafayette boutique hotel planned in conjunction with the convention center as well as a 240-room Renaissance hotel under construction at North Hills, backers believe enough top-end hotel rooms will be available close to the RBC Center and downtown Raleigh as early as 2009.

"As far as I'm concerned, this market is now clearly ready to host the game," said Scott Dupree, the director of sports marketing for the visitors bureau. "When I look back to 2001, the difference in this market and this town between 2001 and 2011 is going to be dramatic. From a visitor and hospitality industry perspective, it's like two different cities.

"There's no doubt in my mind we'll be ready in 2011 -- sooner than that, but that looks like the next one available."

In the past, the NHL would typically host a fan festival of games, memorabilia and exhibits at a convention center near the arena. (In South Florida in 2003, the event took place outdoors in the arena's parking lots.) The old Raleigh convention center was too small to host such an event.

But in Dallas in January, the league created an "All-Star Plaza" in an open area outside the American Airlines Center, with bands, a roller-hockey rink and games for fans. The memorabilia and sports-card show was held at a nearby mall.

Raleigh's new convention center would be more than sufficient for smaller-scale fan events, as would the parking lots around the RBC Center. The convention center, with 150,000 square feet of exhibit space available by late 2008, could also host a larger event.

An NHL spokesman said plans for an "interactive fan experience" in Atlanta next year still are being formalized.

"I know for a couple years that was pretty popular," Rutherford said. "We can do it if that's what the league wants."