A proposed civic recreation strategy with $426 million in capital projects is facing plenty of criticism at city hall, triggering calls to scrap or pause the process.
The strategy was created to guide recreation priorities for 25 years and pitches a major 10-year investment in arenas and aquatic, community and leisure centres, along with outdoor pools and spray pads, beginning in 2024.
However, one city councillor fears the proposal to improve recreation access and address aging facilities would pretty much "ignore" his Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood ward.
"I think that entire plan needs to be scrapped and we need to do it as a council, not as a public service," said Coun. Kevin Klein. "This is ludicrous and it should be… stopped immediately."
Coun. Brian Mayes said he’s concerned by some apparent shifts in recreation priorities within the strategy, which don’t match approved capital-budget forecasts.
For example, he said council had planned to spend $1 million on plans for an East of the Red Rec Plex, while the strategy calls for a $2 million study and $80 million to build the facility.
"This calls for $82 million…. That is an important project but why are the staff seemingly trying to rewrite the budget a few months after we passed it?" said Mayes (St. Vital).
He said he was pleased to see funding for a southeast community centre in the Bonavista neighbourhood included in the long-term plan, but fears the city would stretch its debt load too far by making all of the investments.
"It’s creating expectations that we will be unable to fulfil," he said.
The city would take on $212 million of additional debt by 2027 to cover the new costs, according to a public service report. While the municipal government could apply for funding from senior governments and other partners to support the projects, few details are noted about that option.
Citing cost as one key concern, Coun. Sherri Rollins said she’ll move to delay the recreation strategy, as well as a separate 25-year strategy for parks.
"The strategies contain inadequate economic and financial information…. The unrealistic 10-year (capital spending) timelines and associated budget impacts don’t even consider Winnipeg’s debt room," said Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), the chairwoman of council’s protection, community services and parks committee.
She’s also concerned that some councillors feel their wards are not well represented.
"I don’t think we have a plan yet that all wards in the city can see themselves in and that’s sufficient enough reason to hit the pause button… There needs to be some major revisions," she said.
None of the councillors debated the need to improve facilities. Almost 60 per cent of Winnipeg’s recreation infrastructure is now more than 50 years old and deemed to be in "poor" or "very poor" condition, according to a 2018 State of the Infrastructure report.
Many the facilities now fall short of current building code, accessibility and energy-efficiency standards, a current public service report notes.
The strategy aims to address that through a variety of capital investments, including: $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 Lion’s 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.
Where the money would goClick to Expand
The proposed Winnipeg recreation strategy recommends the following key capital investments between 2024 and 2033:
• Spray pad investment fund: $22.4 million
• Recreation facility capital maintenance program: $72 million
• Community centre investment fund: $70.4 million
• South Winnipeg recreation campus: aquatic facility component $37 million
• Freight House Recreation Centre redevelopment study: $250,000
• Freight House outdoor pool redevelopment: $5.5 million
• East of the Red Rec Plex: $82 million
• Fort Rouge Leisure Centre redevelopment study: $250,000
• Arena twinning project: $10 million
• Provencher outdoor pool redevelopment: $8 million
• Southeast Winnipeg regional recreation and aquatic centre: $110 million
• Pan Am Pool redevelopment options analysis: $500,000
• Fort Garry Lion’s outdoor pool redevelopment: $8 million
The strategy aims to address population growth and diversity, while ensuring equitable access to recreation.
It also proposes a shift to large, multi-use facilities, which could spark the consolidation of aging, single-use assets.
The plan doesn’t target specific facilities to close, Rollins said.
The public service is also asking for funding to hire one new full-time employee to implement the strategy, beginning in 2023.
The city declined a request to interview staff about the strategy Thursday.
In an email, city spokesperson Adam Campbell noted that approving the plan would commit council to funding but would direct the items for consideration in the capital budget process.
Campbell noted the spending proposal still falls short of a $1 billion infrastructure deficit for community services, parks and open spaces that the city estimated in 2018.
"Winnipeg is changing and growing and demands on recreation and parks keep increasing and outpacing the city’s ability to adequately fund (them)," he said.
And while the strategy selects projects by catchment area, not electoral ward, all wards could receive potential funding for maintenance, community centres, spray pads and/or arena twinning projects, he said.
Council’s protection committee will debate the strategy on Wednesday.
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.