A controversial city recreation strategy with more than $400 million in capital projects planned over 10 years got the green light from council Thursday despite fears expressed by some that its too rich for Winnipegs blood.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of the protection, community services and parks committee, acknowledged the 25-year proposal that includes $426 million in spending over a decade (pending further budget approvals) is an expensive one. However, she believes recreation is a key budget priority, so council must explore as many partnerships as possible to complete its key investments.
You have the wellness of Winnipeggers and the bottom line that you want to contribute to active living, said Rollins. In budgets, you do your level best to protect (recreation facilities) because you know they are going to be well-used.
The proposal was unveiled in March, and some wide-eyed councillors called for it to be redone again because of the cost. Debate and changes led to Thursdays vote to approve the plan.
Under the strategy, the city will aim to update many aging facilities and add new ones if the spending is approved in annual city budgets.
The capital investments would include: $229 million to develop three new regional complexes with aquatics; $72 million to renew and maintain rec facilities; and $70.4 million for a community centre investment fund that would transform older facilities. Another $21.5 million would be spent to redevelop the Freight House, Provencher and Lions outdoor pools (as part of a goal to provide large destination pools to serve four- to six-kilometre areas).
Additional funds would be devoted to arena redevelopment, spray pads and neighbourhood recreation and leisure centres.
A public service report proposed the city take on $212 million of additional debt by 2027 to cover the new costs.
While he voted in favour of the strategy and says he supports it in theory, Coun. Kevin Klein said he isnt convinced the city can actually afford it.
The problem with this strategy is its unrealistic.… It just cant be done, said Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood. Our debt is too high.
Klein initially wanted council to scrap the entire strategy because it largely ignored his ward, but he said many of those concerns have since been addressed. Administration staff have stressed that many of the funding pockets are available for projects in multiple wards.
Rollins said she believes some projects will be attainable quite soon, although most of the capital spending isnt expected to begin until 2024. The city has already received $50 million of provincial infrastructure funding to support recreation and libraries, which is expected to cover an $8 million plan now part of the overall strategy to renovate, repair and maintain existing arenas.
Previously, that money might have been used, at least in part, to fund new arenas but council also passed an amendment to focus solely on existing facilities Thursday.
Meanwhile, the final version of the strategy will also aim to make Winnipeg recreation more inclusive. A new advisory committee will be tasked with addressing diversity and anti-racism efforts within recreation. The city will also formalize a practice that prevents staff from asking about a residents immigration status when they show up to participate in programs and make use of facilities, Rollins said.
Council also approved a parks strategy Thursday with a $162 million capital investment plan that begins in 2024. The goal is to add new green spaces and better protect existing ones.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.