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Delaware Thunder could leave state if arena lease is not extended, head says


This article has been updated with a comment from the Delaware State Fair.

HARRINGTON — Delaware Thunder President and General Manager Charlie Pens urged the Delaware State Fair to reconsider its decision not to renew the ice hockey team’s lease of The Centre Ice Arena in Harrington, all but saying the group would be forced to leave Delaware should it not be reversed.

The organization on Monday announced that it had failed to reach an agreement with the State Fair. During a livestreamed reaction to the leasing decision on Wednesday, Charlie Pens asked the fair to allow the team to use the arena while a new civic center is built in Dover, which he estimated would take at least two years.

“That’s all we’re asking from the fair, is a two-year extension. (To) be a good partner to the community, to the fans (and) to allow us to build a beautiful facility that we can all be proud of,” he said.

In a pair of phone calls after the livestream, Mr. Pens made clear that the team’s future in Delaware is at stake.

“If we can’t get an extension for two years, we have two choices: move out of state and never return or go dormant. Going dormant after two years of (COVID-19) is not an option,” he said.

During the livestream, Mr. Pens said the team has been approached to move to places like Florida and Maine. Some of the locations have “beautiful facilities,” he added.

Delaware Thunder Live Stream March 28

“We have some significant offers on the table to relocate the team. I’d rather not say where,” he said.

Mr. Pens, however, repeatedly stressed that he does not want the team to leave the state in which it was founded, four years ago. “I’m fighting like heck to keep the team in the state of Delaware, because, you know, I love the state of Delaware and I love our fans and our corporate partners,” he said.

 The Thunder head ramped up the pressure on Delaware State Fair Bill DiMondi, whom Mr. Pens claimed is the “one person” keeping the team from staying in Harrington. “I don’t think it’s fair that one man can affect an entire state, an entire community and an entire region,” he said, adding that he is “a little bit perplexed over” what he claimed was Mr. DiMondi’s decision to not renew the team’s lease of the arena.

In a statement provided to the Delaware State News late Tuesday, the fair said it had decided not to renew the Thunder's lease for the arena to ensure better access to the skating rink  for the public in statement Tuesday night. Officials arrived at that decision after “careful and thoughtful consideration of all relevant facts,” the statement said, adding that the decision and the reasons behind it were communicated to the Thunder in January.

“On April 15, 2023, the Delaware Thunder will play their last game at the Centre Ice
Rink having practiced and played over the past four years," the statement said. “With that, we are saddened to have concluded that we have been unable to overcome the direct
negative impact on our core programming arising from Delaware Thunder’s
exclusive utilization of approximately 10 hours of prime-time weekend ice time for
each pair of home games on Friday and Saturdays (approximately 28
games/season) played at the Centre Ice Rink.

“The Thunder has a very passionate and supportive fan base. The Fair apologizes to
those fans who are disappointed to have just heard from the Thunder this week
about the decision made in January not to renew the lease.”

Mr. Pens thanked Delaware Thunder backers for their support. He asked for fans to sign an online petition asking for the Delaware State Fair to extend the lease, which quickly garnered more than 2,300 signatures after it was started Monday. He further called on supporters to contact their representatives, write members of the Delaware State Fair board of directors and to “just come out and support us in our last home games for this season.” He added: “I think good will prevail.”

“We have the most passionate, loyal fans and corporate partners (and) community,” Mr. Pens said. “It’d be a shame to lose this great product.”

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