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Quebec City arena could pit steel companies against battered wood industry

MONTREAL - Quebec City's push to build a new $400-million hockey arena could end up pitting steel companies against the province's battered wood industry.

Canam Group, a leading structural steel fabricator that has built many of North America's premier sporting venues, hopes the new arena will allow it to show off its metal in its own backyard.

"When we are talking about an arena in our own province that would be several miles from one of our main plants, we would definitely love to have it," senior vice-president Luc Pelland said in an interview.

But the arena's key backers and a coalition that defends the wood industry are pushing hard for the structure to be made out of the renewable resource.

Robert Beauregard, president of Coalition Bois Quebec and a forestry professor at Laval University, said using wood can help the environment and forestry industry while creating a new expertise for the province.

Using wood can help the province achieve its greenhouse gas emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol because each cubic metre of wood used instead of steel or concrete avoids the emission of one tonne of carbon dioxide, he said.

Quebec is already a leader in engineered wood products like glue-laminated timber and wood I-joists.

"If we were able to develop further those products into whole buildings that becomes an opportunity for economic growth," he said.

Building the arena out of wood could also give work to Canadian heavy timber companies. The five main producers are located in Quebec, B.C. and Alberta.

"In Canada we've had lots of closures of forest industries over the last few years and we think that if we could develop an expertise in outstanding buildings made out of wood, that creates a whole new business, a whole new value creation network that we can export afterwards."

Several buildings, including the Richmond Oval that hosted long-track speed skating at last year's Vancouver Olympics, are made from wood. A nine-storey building made of wood in London, England, has also altered what was thought possible.

Beauregard said there's no longer a technical limit to what can be done and believes the entire arena can be made from wood.

But Pelland said the structural integrity of the building would limit the use of wood to between 35 and 40 per cent, and mostly as an architectural detail visible to fans.

Steel would still likely remain a key component, especially for the roof, he said.

The main seating area of Montreal's Bell Centre was constructed with concrete. The choice of materials varies by city, region, province or state.

As the steel capital of the United States, it was likely never an option to consider an alternative material for the Penguins' new arena built by Canam, he said.

While it has some competitors in the U.S. northeast, transportation costs give Canam a clear advantage, along with its design team that can minimize costs by limiting the amount of steel used, added Pelland.

Yuri Lynk of CanaccordGenuity said the Quebec City arena could be a positive catalyst for Canam and generate some $50 million in revenues, or roughly 10 per cent of its current backlog.

"Should the Quebec City stadium come to fruition and be constructed of steel and not concrete, as Montreal's Bell Centre was, we believe the company has a good chance of securing the contract given its capabilities," he wrote in a report.

The North American sports shrines built by Canam include hockey arenas in Toronto and Ottawa, the new Yankee Stadium and the home of NFL's New York Giants and Jets.

Francois Moreau, chief executive officer of ABCP Architecture and a partner in the non-profit organization backing the arena, is also pushing for wood to be a key component of the arena to showcase Quebec's battered industry.

"The wood industry is in danger, we have to promote it and show the technological advances while putting Quebec's engineering on the table," he said in an interview.

He said professionals hired by the city will look more closely at the potential cost of the different materials that can be used.

Still, he said, companies like Canam would play a key role because wood would likely be limited to 40 per cent of the arena.

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