Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Worry over youth centre plan

Other groups fear fate of own developments

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Winnipeg's plan to spend $3.4 million on a youth centre run by a Christian group has other non-profit organizations wondering whether their own developments will proceed as planned.

On Feb. 24, city council will debate a plan to give downtown development agency CentreVenture $225,000 a year over 15 years to pay back a loan on behalf of Youth for Christ, a non-profit organization that wants to build a 50,000-square-foot "Youth Centre for Excellence" on an empty lot at the northwest corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue.

The $11.7-million facility, which is also set to receive $3.2 million in federal infrastructure-stimulus funds, would include a multi-sport gym, indoor skate-and-BMX park, climbing wall and fitness centre, among other amenities.

The plan, which emerged at council's executive policy committee on Wednesday, has caught a pair of non-profit recreation organizations by surprise.

"As an organization, we were quite surprised to hear the news," said Jeff Hnatiuk, chief executive officer of Sport Manitoba, which plans to build a 66,000-square-foot field house for elite and ordinary athletes on Pacific Avenue, several blocks east of the proposed Youth for Christ centre.

Sport Manitoba has already spent $150,000 on plans for its field house, which will cost up to $13 million and require a fundraising effort of its own. Although the organization is working closely with CentreVenture, Hnatiuk said he's been told little about the Youth for Christ project and does not know how it will affect Sport Manitoba's plans.

The Skateboard Coalition of Manitoba, which plans to build an indoor skate park in Winnipeg of a quality similar to the award-winning outdoor park at The Forks, said the Youth for Christ announcement has placed its plans on hold.

The coalition has spent $15,000 on preliminary plans but will now see whether it can partner with Youth for Christ, spokeswoman Connie Newman said.

Some social-service organizations, meanwhile, are wondering why they cannot obtain a fraction of the public funds offered to Youth for Christ. Ma Mawi Chi Itata, whose cultural and recreational programs serve aboriginal youths as well as adults, may appear before council Wednesday to complain it has been overlooked.

"We struggle to find funding and keep our doors open," director Diane Roussin said.

But the Youth for Christ project did not begin at city hall. The group made a successful application for federal money under an infrastructure-stimulus program that was open to any organization, CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan said. Youth for Christ has been working with CentreVenture for months and has provided the agency with detailed plans, which did not have to be forwarded to council because CentreVenture, not the city, is the entity providing the loan, McGowan said.

The Youth for Christ youth centre will complement Sport Manitoba's field house, McGowan added. "That project is geared to athletes. This one is more geared to getting kids off the streets and making wise choices," he said.

The proposed youth centre enjoys support from Mayor Sam Katz, a majority of city councillors, senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews and Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who like the downtown development and recreational aspects of the youth centre.

The Selinger government supports the project in principle but has no plans to help pay for it. Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt -- who initially criticized the way the project emerged at city hall -- now says he is convinced of its merits and will vote in favour of it next week.

But Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin and sole Manitoba Liberal MP Anita Neville have criticized the funding for reasons ranging from the speed the proposal has moved through city hall to the evangelical nature of Youth for Christ, which maintains statistics about its conversion efforts.

 

-- With a file from Mia Rabson

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2010 A3

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