Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No plan for city's arena 'crisis'

Eight proposals but no solutions

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More than a year after declaring some of its indoor arenas are in a "crisis state," the City of Winnipeg still has no plan to improve or replace any of the aging facilities.

In October 2011, the city put out a call to community groups or private businesses interested in building new ice-skating multiplexes or adding ice sheets to existing facilities.

That call yielded eight proposals -- none of which make financial sense for the city, community services director Clive Wightman told council's protection and community services committee on Monday.

Committee chairman Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) said the city now plans to work with these entities to better refine their business plans. Recommendations to work with one or more of these groups could come forward in 2013, he said.

"If you rush too quickly into things, there's a danger to taxpayers," Fielding told reporters after the meeting. "We're not going to just jump on some funding model if it doesn't make sense."

Winnipeg has 39 sheets of ice, including 15 sheets in city-owned-and-operated arenas. Most of the facilities are 40 years old or older.

In 2010, the city estimated it would have to spend $51.5 million over 10 years to maintain them in their current states. The cost of actually improving the arenas was pegged at $80 million.

At the time, the St. James Civic Centre and Sam Southern Arena were the only city-owned-and-operated arenas deemed to be in a state of "managed care." Six others, including Bertrand, Charles A. Barbour, Pioneer, River East, Sargent Park and Vimy, were in a crisis situation.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said he believes the city has "wasted a year" by asking the private sector and community groups to solve the problem.

"We put out a document a year ago saying we have six arenas in crisis. It's crisis management, yet we've spent a year and accomplished nothing," said the rookie councillor. "So let's declare the process dead and get on with the dialogue about what we want to do with these arenas."

Fielding insisted community services should be given more time to work on business plans with the outside groups. But he could not say for certain whether recommendations will actually come forward next year.

The head of the city's largest union said it should have been obvious community groups couldn't afford to build or improve arenas. Private businesses also can't make money attempting the same task, said Mike Davidson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.

"If the private sector was running these arenas, they'd have to double the (ice-time) price to achieve a profit," said Davidson, who accused the city of abdicating its responsibility for recreation infrastructure by calling for outside help. "Let's just throw it out there and see who will pick up the arenas? That's no way to run the city."

The revelation Winnipeg has no imminent arena partners marks the second time this year the city has chosen not to proceed with proposals for recreational properties.

In July, the city chose not to sell or lease seven underperforming golf courses after eliciting and receiving dozens of proposals from the private sector and non-profit groups.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 20, 2012 A2

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