Rossland’s arena should be kept operating as a facility for ice sports, a citizens’ panel is recommending to council.
The report of the Rossland recreation task force was presented to council on Monday.
“As a starting point, there is consensus in the task force that the status quo is not an option,” says a summary of the report. “All of us agree that in one form or another, more money should be put into the arena to improve it and make it more marketable.”
The task force members also agreed decommissioning the building “would be undesirable — extremely costly, and detrimental to the community” the report says — though it cautions that option was not explored in depth.
The task force was struck in March after a failure in the brine cooling system forced the arena to stop ice-making early. The failure brought into focus the need for council to come up with a long-term plan for the arena that had community consensus.
Seven members of the public joined four city staff and councillors on the task force, though only the public members had voting rights.
The majority of the task force members said it would be unwise to shut down the 80-year-old facility.
“The arena is an important part of the community fabric,” the report authors indicated. “There are significant non-financial values in keeping the arena as an ice facility, and costs to terminating it, as it is embedded in the history of this city. These can’t be reflected in a worksheet, but they are very real.”
The task force explored six scenarios, from running the arena as it is now, with ice in winter and concrete in summer; or with ice in winter and a gym or turf surface in summer; to removing ice-making altogether and just having a turf or gym floor year-round.
The scenario of having ice in the winter and a gym floor in the summer won the most votes from the public members of the task force.
Overall the majority felt having some ice making capability, despite the high cost, would be better for Rossland.
“It serves more Rosslanders than the alternatives, and serves a broader demographic, in particular youth,” the report indicates. “The arena is well used by ice activities, according to data from the city’s new, more rigorous, monitoring system.”
It also noted that ice-based tournaments are a benefit to local business and tourism, and investing in alternative surfacing outside of winter (turf or gym floor) “would be an expansion of the recreation services offered to Rossland, as opposed to a contraction.”
But not all task force members agreed. Some worried about the financial impact of keeping the ageing arena operating.
“The minority that voted against an ice facility argue that the higher capital and operating costs of ice scenarios, while lower than what had been cited in previous discussions on the future of the arena, are still significant for those who currently struggle to pay taxes in Rossland,” the report notes.
“Ultimately, those in favour of ice scenarios argue that the difference in costs is not great enough to justify losing the benefits of an ice facility, the downsides of closing the ice, or the risks of converting to a year-round facility with an uncertain revenue stream.”
No to demolition
The task force report indicates that simply getting rid of the facility was not deeply investigated.
“We did not consider demolition or decommissioning of the building, but suspect that such an option would have overly negative impacts, including being cost-prohibitive,” the report says, noting that would cost city staff jobs and reduce options for recreation in the city. “Neither did we consider the option, used in some communities, of selling or leasing the arena to a commercial operator.”
And they said the favoured option, an “ice-plus gym surface” scenario had only marginally higher costs, and the investment would open new opportunities.
“Those in favour of turf or gym flooring argued that the increased costs were justified by the increased number of hours of usage, based on our survey of potential users,” the report says. “The ice-plus-gym scenario seems to achieve widest service in terms of hours used and demographics served. They also argued that, while grant opportunities are possible for all scenarios, there may be more potential for grants in a scenario involving new types of facilities and services.”
It costs about $91,000 more a year to operate the arena more than it takes in revenue, even when all its systems are in working order. That works out to a subsidy of about $38 a year for the average homeowner paying taxes. Estimates to replace the building’s ice-making equipment range up to $350,000.
In any of the scenarios developed by the commission, the building needs significant capital spending to keep it in operating order. Leaving it as-is, the building is facing about $1.4 million dollars of work. Adding a summer turf surface would (along with other work that needs to be done) cost just under $1.6 million; taking out ice-making and just having a year-round turf surface would still cost $1.2 million.
Council received the report and will respond in the coming weeks.