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City director voices concern about shortfall at Southdale

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Winnipeg's director of community services is expressing concern about the city's $3.74-million loan guarantee for the Southdale Community Centre's expansion in the wake of the centre's move to stave off a potential operating shortfall.

Earlier this summer, the community centre hiked the fees it charges for ringette and hockey from $85 per family to $110 per player. At a public meeting on Monday, the community centre's board of directors said those fees are going up partly because of unexpected costs but also to cover some of the cost of Southdale's $9.4-million expansion.

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That expansion was supported by $2.7 million worth of provincial grants, a $2-million federal contribution, $700,000 from the city and more than $500,000 worth of corporate sponsorship and private fundraising.

Community services director Clive Wightman said the city extended a pair of loan guarantees totalling $3.74 million on the basis of a business plan presented to the city in 2011.

He wants to know what elements of that plan have changed to place Southdale in the position of needing more revenue.

"This is the first we heard they have some issues on the operation side they're attributing to debt," Wightman said on Tuesday. "We have a loan guarantee, so it's important for us to understand what has or hasn't happened.

"There's never been a default for a loan guarantee in the history of community centres."

At Monday's public meeting, Southdale's board laid some of the blame for its increased operating costs at the feet of the city, alleging city permit delays and demands to change the scope of the project led to cost increases.

Wightman dismissed the permit allegation but said he will reserve comment on the other charge from the board "until I understand the context of where they're coming from."

Southdale Community Centre board president Todd Thornton said he does not blame the city for the organization's debt, although he wishes the city had come to the table with more money when the expansion was first announced.

The provincial government promised to expand the community centre in the midst of the 2007 provincial election.

Southdale was ranked No. 5 on a community-centre-expansion priority list developed under a process that was intended to be free of politics, but the city eventually came to the table despite continued complaints from some councillors that Southdale jumped the funding queue.

"You can't do everything for everybody," said Wightman, noting the city had limited funds for community centres.

Thornton said none of the other upgrades to community centres addressed the decay of Winnipeg hockey rinks.

He said Southdale should have a mortgage and is confident the community centre will be able to service it, stressing his board is not asking the city for additional help.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2012 B2

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