Windsor Express unveils ambitious plan to transform Windsor Arena

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross


The Windsor Express pulled back the curtain Wednesday on its striking plan to bring The Barn — opened in 1925, closed in 2013  — back from the dead.

Mothballed Windsor Arena would be transformed into “multi-purpose facility” whose nucleus would be a revitalized home court for the city’s professional basketball team, but which would also feature restaurants, stores, and the flexibility to retract or add seating for concerts, boxing and wrestling events, pickleball and badminton tournaments, e-sports, women’s roller derby and a myriad of other uses.

“That arena is a significant piece of the community and it needs to be brought back to the people of Windsor,” Express president Dartis Willis said at a news conference unveiling ambitious plans that still must sink several three-point shots before from becoming a reality. Just three weeks ago city council shortlisted the Express proposal along with a proposal from the YMCA, as the city moves to find a use for the Barn and the adjacent Water World property.

Council directed administration to meet with the two shortlisted proponents to discuss whether they — the Express and the Y — could develop the project together, since the Y is mostly interested in Water World and the Express is mostly interested in Windsor Arena. Parties for both proponents have told the Star they’re interested in working together.

Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, who represents the downtown including the Windsor Arena area at Wyandotte and McDougall streets, said  he sees the Express proposal as a dynamic idea for a key property — vacant for seven years — that’s a “money drag” for city taxpayers. Basketball is an urban sport, he said, drawing its fans and players from core areas. He envisions the Express project generating major foot traffic through the downtown and expanding the downtown footprint to the east.

“I can’t say enough, I think this is something that would definitely fit, definitely work, I’ve been a supporter from Day 1,” said Bortolin, who’s been working with Willis for three years. He emphasized that the project won’t work if it’s just about Express home games. The Barn can’t just be active for 30 or 40 nights a year. There has to be closer to 200, be it for Express games or recreational volleyball leagues. [ Read More ]