'Champions' needed for twin-pad arena to be built

The following is my city column, published last Friday:

'Champions' needed for twin-pad arena to be built

He's been refining his pitch for the better part of his political career, so it's no surprise Councillor Jason Baker makes a convincing case for the urgency of a new twin-pad arena in Brockville.

“No other city-owned facilities generate the revenue that our arenas do,” Baker writes in his lengthy letter to council submitted with his notice of motion Tuesday.

“These facilities are not the drain on taxpayers that they are being portrayed as and they should not be compared to facilities that are,” he adds.

“Arenas keep kids busy and off the streets. The city often speaks about the need to attract young families and support programs geared to keeping kids active and engaged in their communities.”

Arena user groups such as the Brockville Girls Hockey Association, of which Baker is president,bring in hundreds of tourists a year through tournaments, which they organize at no cost to the city, adds Baker.

“We are generating tourism dollars, we are generating economic development and we are doing it at our risk and our cost. All that we ask is for the infrastructure to be in place to do more of it,” Baker writes.

The veteran councillor put forward a notice of motion Tuesday calling for the creation of a special committee to study Brockville's arena needs.

He argues the city can save tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees by letting the committee do much of the homework.

He appears to have done some of that homework already.

As he sees it, the committee could buy the plans of an existing facility and go straight to expressions of interest to build the twin-pad arena, either under a public private partnership (P3) or a city-built rink (with infrastructure money from above, of course). He cites the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee as an example.

That may be jumping ahead a bit.

At the moment, the twin-pad arena remains a project on the capital priority list to be built later this decade, with no clear indication yet of where the money will come from. There was talk of a P3 last year, but no telling whether it will still be an option when the city is ready to launch.

Still, Baker's point is he has done some due diligence already, and the committee he wants council to create, through a motion to be debated next month, is a good way to move the project forward.

One can, of course, grow tired of yet another advisory committee in a city that already has an arena advisory committee – among other advisory committees.

But this “committee” may in fact take a different form. Baker suggests it consist of representatives from the city's major adult and youth user groups, a representative from the existing arena advisory committee and regular taxpayers “whether they support the idea or not,” and city staff.

If properly configured, the committee may in fact resemble one of those community “champions” that help get projects moved further up the priority list.

A dedicated and effective group of champions has in recent years received money from council to revitalize Rotary Park, and now has results to show for it.

And when other projects with steep price tags have landed on council's desk – the Brock Trail extension and the Railway Tunnel upgrade come to mind, as well as some of the other visions of the Economic Development Advisory Team – council and staff have all but made the existence of such champion groups a prerequisite for moving forward.

Such groups, after all, not only get projects designed, but band together to raise funds in the community and beyond.

And that, in the end, might be a new arena group's most vital role, once council signs off on the vision.

The case for a third ice rink, both for local recreation and fitness purposes as well as the city's efforts to lure sports tourists, is increasingly hard to dispute.

So is the value of another group of community champions, whose goal would be to build another venue for the champions of tomorrow to excel.

City hall reporter Ronald Zajac's column appears in The Recorder and Times every other Friday. He can be reached at 613-342-4441, ext. 257, or by email at ron.zajac@sunmedia.ca. Follow
him on Twitter @RipNTearRon.