After 15 long years, I am finally going to a Jets game this weekend and it feels so good to finally say that again. I was at the last ever Jets game and truly believed that the NHL would never ever come back. This video shows, what most believed was the last time that hockey fans would ever see the Jets.
To be fair, the 2011 Winnipeg Jets have not looked great on the ice and I doubt that they will be a playoff contender this year. It really doesn't matter to me right now though, as I am still in the giddy that we have an NHL team stage, mainly because I thought it would never happen. When the Jets left it seemed like this city was in a downward spiral with no sings of stopping.
There was a lot not going for Winnipeg in 1996. The Jets leaving that year was just one thing that was making the city seem depressing. Portage Avenue was covered in boarded up buildings, the quirky but decrepit Winnipeg Arena was about the take in the Manitoba Moose as their new tenant, and the downtown area was just on overall eye sore. 1996 was the year I graduated from high school and it seemed like most of my peers career plan was simple. "Get the hell out of here."
Well here it is 2011 and alot has changed in this city. Downtown is still far from perfect but slowly with every new building that sprouts up, the area improves. Main on either side of Higgins was just downright depressing for years and it has come along way in the last 15 years.
Now that the Jets are back in town, the revitalization will hopefully come quicker. Professional sports is big business compared to how it was even in 1996 and Arenas have to be complete entertainment destinations, not only with whats inside them but with what surrounds them. One of the most exciting aspects of the return of the NHL will be the continued revitalization of the area around the MTS center.
A brand new state of the art hotel will be built directly across from the MTS Center and CanadInns announced that they will be re-opening the historic Metropolitan Theater as a multi-purpose Entertainment complex that will among other things show all Winnipeg Jets away games in a theatre style setting. Also the massive 4play sports bar opened not long ago and it will be packed before and after games all season along with the Tavern United. The area around Portage Avenue is slated to become a massive Sports and Entertainment Center and this will do wonders for Portage Avenue and downtown.
It wasn’t long ago after the Eaton’s building closed that this same area had been left for dead. Every second building was boarded up and falling apart. People were simply not going downtown and especially were not going to Portage Avenue, and to be fair there still not going downtown in droves but it's getting better. I started to think that the city’s downtown was never going to recover. Well thankfully I was wrong.
The return of the Jets may also lead to other Winnipeg entrepreneurs racing to open bars and restaurants in the downtown area. NHL players from the Jets and from other teams will be looking for bars and restaurants to frequent after the games and their fat wallets and their appeal will lead to bar owners fighting for their business. Winnipeg has always lacked a major downtown club district like there is in most other major cities and hopefully this will make people want to open more entertainment options downtown. The sad thing is the Exchange has so much potential to be a cool club district ,but it just seems to never work out. Hell, I'll go anywhere new if it means I don't have to go to The Pal.
Of course a huge benefit of the return of the Jets is the national and international attention that this city is receiving. When I think of any major North American city often the first thing that comes to mind is that cities major sports team. Sports franchises travel North America and take their cities names with them wherever they go. In the eighties the Edmonton Oilers put the city of Edmonton on the map by winning Stanley Cups and drawing huge crowds wherever they played. Suddenly everyone around the world knew about a small Canadian city because of the Edmonton Oilers. Whenever I travel in the states and tell people where I am from the one thing that they know about this city is the Winnipeg Jets. Sports teams are representatives of a city. Jets games are broadcast on CBC and TSN which gives the city much needed exposure. We will be seen as a major league town again and that kind of exposure and attention is priceless.