Prospera Centre CEO Glen Ringdal and Mamma Mia publicist KellyAnne TeBrinke show some of the 1

New chairs get their debut at Mamma Mia! in Chilliwack

Buying 1000 new chairs in a nice shade of burgundy may signal something more long-term for the Prospera Centre Chilliwack.

The extra-comfy chairs arrived just in time at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack.

Thousands of folks will test them out as they watch the smash-hit musical Mamma Mia! on Friday night.

But purchasing, rather than renting, the 1000 new chairs in a nice shade of burgundy, may also signal something more long-term for the facility.

“While this is a terrific hockey rink for Chilliwack, it’s so much more.

“It’s an event centre,” said Prospera Centre CEO Glen Ringdal.

They plan to bring even more world-class performances like Mamma Mia! to Chilliwack, including big-name concerts, unique sporting events and trade shows.

“It’s a place the community can enjoy for all kinds of acts.”

They’ve had their share of challenges in recent years, in terms of attracting other types of high-end stage entertainment to the facility.

“Many in Chilliwack have said they felt the building wasn’t serving their needs. Our objective is to fill it with as many events as possible to meet the needs of the community.”

The market they draw from includes Fraser Valley communities from Abbotsford to Hope.

The centre has hosted everyone from Jann Arden, Leahy, George Jones and Alice Cooper, as well as the Celebration on Ice figure skating show with Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning. It also saw the Continental Cup, Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance and last May, country legend Charley Pride.

The new soft-cushioned chairs destined for the floor were purchased by Prospera Centre management specifically to bring up the capacity of the facility to 3000 seats for Mamma Mia. There will be 2000 seats in the arena section and another 1000 on the floor.

“Mamma Mia! will be the seats’ grand debut and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Ringdal.

The seats will be “ganged” to keep the rows together during the show.

The high-caliber chairs are on a par with those used in world-class venues, said Ringdal.

So far an estimated 70 per cent of available Mamma Mia! seats have been sold. Chilliwack is the only city in the Lower Mainland where the show will be performed.

“We’re expecting to sell out,” said Ringdal.

How crucial is that?

“This building belongs to the people of Chilliwack. They have to use it in the best possible way.”

When it was built, Prospera Centre was seen as one of the first successful private-public partnerships in B.C.

A design/build P3 partnership was forged in 2003 between the Chiefs Development Group and City of Chilliwack to build and run the sports and entertainment facility that would eventually boast 5700 seats. It opened in 2004 and cost less than $22 million, including the 2005 seats expansion.

The Chiefs Group will own the facility for another minimum six years, at which time it could revert back to city ownership. But the company could continue in its current role after that time, he said.

He makes it clear they are serious about filling the facility in the meantime.

“Part of it is that we don’t have a good enough knowledge of what it is the people of Chilliwack want to see,” said Ringdal. “We’re ready to go out and get that.”

They’re planning to professionally survey the community about its tastes.

“We really want to hear what they’re interested in seeing.”

Make no mistake, they love having the B.C. Hockey League here with the Chilliwack Chiefs, where the average attendance in Chilliwack was the highest of all 168 teams in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.

“We’re still not satisfied. We want to fill the building for every game and for every event.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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