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Quebec City to break ground on new NHL style arena in mid-September

Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, right, and Quebecor President Pierre Karl Peladeau smile after they announced they were going to proceed and build an arena Sunday, March 25, 2012 in Quebec City Que. Quebec City is seeking the return of an NHL team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

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Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, right, and Quebecor President Pierre Karl Peladeau smile after they announced they were going to proceed and build an arena Sunday, March 25, 2012 in Quebec City Que. Quebec City is seeking the return of an NHL team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

QUEBEC - It's official. Quebec City says it will begin construction on a new NHL-style arena this September.

Now all the city needs is a team to play in it.

Mayor Regis Labeaume announced Sunday the $400-million arena will hold about 18,000 people, saying it would be comparable to a facility built for the league's Pittsburgh Penguins a year ago.

"Today, the dream becomes a reality," he told reporters at a news conference.

Labeaume said the city can proceed with the project after finalizing an agreement with Quebecor on Friday, a week before a March 31 deadline.

The media empire landed the naming rights for the future arena and was granted exclusive rights to manage the facility.

If an NHL team is acquired, Quebecor would hand over $63.5 million for naming rights, plus $5 million in annual rent. Without one, the company would pay $33 million for the rights and an average of $3.15 million annually for rent.

"There are no more obstacles... no more uncertainty about the construction of the amphitheatre," said Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau, who was also at the news conference.

In an effort to keep the project within budget, Labeaume said the building would be trimmed down from 70,000 square meters to 64,000, a savings of about $30 million. The number of underground parking spots will also be cut, yielding another $21 million in savings.

But the budgetary breakdown of the project remains unclear, only months before construction is set to begin.

Labeaume was stingy with the financial details on Sunday and wouldn't go into specifics about the total expenses required to get the facility built.

Two Quebec ministers, Michelle Courchesne and Sam Hamad, were also on hand for the announcement. The province and Quebec City have pledged to share the cost of the project, with taxpayer money.

Courchesne said the province would make sure project stays within the projected $400-million total.

The arena is expected to be complete by September 2015, although there's no guarantee the city will ever get a team back.

The city lost its NHL team when the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995.

Labeaume refused to speculate on whether his city was in line for a team. On Sunday, he was quick to shut down a reporter's question on the subject, perhaps trying to take a cautious approach with the league.

Research in Motion's former co-CEO Jim Balsillie was aggressive in his effort to bring a team to Hamilton, and ultimately failed.

Peladeau made no mention of the NHL in his statement either, saying the arena would be a multi-purpose facility that would make "all Quebecers proud."

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