|Kimball Entertainment and Sports Arena|
Kimball Township (Port Huron), Michigan (Map)
Port Huron's antiquated McMorran Arena has somehow remained in use after over 50 years of service. It most certainly has poorly distributed heat, hard chairs and a dull lack of sparkle, where every other town and city has a shiny rink, surrounded by glass, glass & more glass.
Mostafa Afr was the owner of the Port Huron Border Cats around the turn of the century, a man who definitely saw McMorran Arena in this aforementioned light, leading him to aspire for a suburban megaplex like everywhere else.
Construction of this $54 million dollar Kimball Township monstrosity would start in 1999, far away from all of the downtown Port Huron hassles of seeing a game; like parking, shady characters and traffic jams.
The arena's placement in a field out near I-94, next to an Afr-owned strip mall, would allow even the most willy-nilly, frail person to come out and enjoy hockey at the most minimal amount of inconvenience.
A $54 million dollar entertainment complex is a delicate undertaking in a town of 30000 people - one that could work when you consider Sarnia's population across the river - but in this case it would go belly up by the summer of 2000, as Mostafa didn't have the money he owed contractors by this time.
(The interesting thing is that recent articles list the $54 million figure, but an article from 2000 quotes a Border Cats' media relations director as saying the arena "will be the centerpiece of $200 million sports and entertainment complex, expected to include five recreational hockey rinks, a golf course and at least two restaurants.")
The Border Cats and poor Port Huron Yelp reviewers would sadly be left with gorgeous McMorran Arena, while those out in Kimball Township complained about the "eyesore that was Kimball Arena" - something I found strange as we confusedly drove around for 20 minutes, while I tried to relate to their ophthalmic pain by scanning the horizon in hopes of straining my eyes at the ruinous sight.
The more legitimate complaint is that the arena had become a teenage hangout, with the township supervisor saying the ruins are now a source of 9111 calls.
(Although it would seem that someone is asleep at the helm if they're getting multiple 911 calls and not doing anything about it.)
Kimball Arena had been abandoned for 13 years when we visited, meaning there's a decade's worth of Port Huroners who had this building nearby for all of their teenage ATV, bonfire and spray painting years.
Even when you have something simple like a shack in the woods or an old bunker, it will grow in legend and find itself remembered with nostalgia in later years. I find it funny that the next group of Port Huroners will hear stories of the half-completed arena where their older brother/sister, uncle or cousin used to skateboard and party, while in modern day they drive by an inconspicuous marshy field out in Kimball Township, next to some suburban strip mall.
The thing is, is that this strip mall is now in receivership on delinquent taxes, so even though the few strip mall businesses left are seeing some improvements and a group of new owners have taken over, maybe this will be one big empty field in the not-so-distant future.
Poor Mostafa only wanted to bring cushioned seating, fireplace temperatures and sterile buildings to the people...and instead it seems like he's lost his shirt!
I suppose I've established that I like old arenas by now.
I also understand the fair criticism of asking when was the last time I visited McMorran Arena, or telling me to mind my own business and support my own old arenas (which I do, in that I drive 150mi/250km to Grand Falls-Windsor's arena instead of the boring Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook).
Anyway, the most interesting tidbit here is noted by DetroitUrbex.com, in that construction plans for the Kimball Entertainment and Sports Arena eventually came to fruition, in that they were used as a base for the WFCU Center in Windsor!
Now where I despise the WFCU Center as an icon of Eddie Francis' bravado and Windsor's infatuation with suburban sprawl, I still think that's a pretty neat fact. Once I visit every other OHL arena before finally visiting the WFCU Center in Windsor, it'll be interesting to note the similarities.
I can't remember why I made it such a priority to head to Port Huron over Christmas, but it was likely my steady fear that demolition will pop up sometime while I'm stuck in Newfoundland, unable to visit before something's gone.
The good thing is that in the case of Kimball Arena, prudence was justified.
In July of 2014, building eaters would come to the site and push these pillars into the pond, which normally exists in the foreground when you don't visit in January.
In an interesting window from The Times Herald (warning: autoplay video), it's pretty funny to hear from Kimball Township Supervisor Rob Usakowski, who says that people have been coming up and wondering why he's demolishing their place. Now I don't know if I'd be naive enough to ask that question, but I totally understand the sentiment of your place to dirtbike or paint biting the dust after so long.
Even though I was simply happy with visiting this smaller American city for the first time in over a decade, there was added satisfaction in seeing Kimball Arena before it was gone. A good thing, because I don't pay nearly enough attention to the Port Huron Times Herald to have had any advanced knowledge of the arena's demise. (I actually didn't know the arena was gone until I started researching this update on Saturday.)
Leaving Kimball Township, the three of us were going to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting Walpole Island's American neighbor: Harsens Island. Driving down MI-29 along the St. Clair River, this was another exciting new experience for me as I had only driven I-94 to Port Huron before.
Unfortunately, as we suspected from the amount of ice in the river, we pulled up to the ferry launch and learned that the boat was doing one more run, and then they suspected that they wouldn't return from Harsens Island. We could take our chances, but there was no guarantee we'd get back today, tomorrow, or the next day.
Harsens Island would have to wait.
There was some consolation in that we went through Marine City, which was another first for me, a first that also allowed me to get the Peche Island Rear Range Lighthouse.
Astute geographers of Ontario or Michigan will realize that Marine City doesn't sit on Peche Island, as Peche Island is an 86 acre island situated where Lake St. Clair empties into the Detroit River, just offshore from Windsor's Sandpoint Beach, Riverside Brewery and Lakeview Park Marina (Lilly Kazzilly's Crab Shack).
Peche Island Range Rear was built in 1908 to guide ships to the north of Peche Island, into the deeper branch of the Detroit River.
By 1983, the lighthouse's service life had ran its course and its demolition was put out for tender. Thankfully some residents of Marine City stepped in and contacted the destruction company, managing to instead ship the 35 tonne lighthouse across Lake St. Clair, then 1/3rd of the way up the St. Clair River.
The lighthouse has since become an icon of Marine City, one which they intend to upkeep, even if Michigan's Lighthouse Assistance Program denied them money this year, with reasoning that the lighthouse isn't in its original location and supposedly was constructed by Canadians (even though it was actually built by the U.S. Lighthouse Service).
Thankfully Marine City has money stored away, that'll at least allow them to do exterior repairs in 2015.
We would return to the warmth of the car, get denied at Harsens Island, then continue following MI-29 around frozen Anchor Bay, until we eventually met the interstate and returned to the big city.
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1 - The Morning Call - UHL Arenas Like Allentown's Are Going Up Across Ohio and Michigan Teams Will Also Hit Ice At New Facilities in October
2 - The Times Herald - Kimball Outlet Mall On The Blocks
3 - Ojibway Nature Centre - Peche Island
4 - The Voice - Marine City's Peche Lighthouse grand denied, rehab still planned
5 - Traveling Michigan's Thumb - Julie Albrecht Royce
6 - The Times Herald - Arena Site Finally Heads To Trash Bin
7 - US Coast Guard - Historic Light Station Information & Photography
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