Ice pads a hot topic
Changes must satisfy broad community needs while expanding sports tourism potential
North Bay is approaching yet another infrastructure crossroad with the limits of the West Ferris ice pad in the Sam Jacks Recreational Complex offering a turning point. Depending on how the issue is navigated, a major realignment of the city’s arena inventory may be born.
To this end, city staff will present a report about it to council’s community service committee Sept. 5, with the timelines and targets for the 2018 budget deliberations revealed at a special meeting two nights later.
A key timeframe motivator is a report suggesting the city, barring sufficient re-engineering of the West Ferris arena roof, needs a new pad in place before the fall of 2019.
Highlighted from the outset will be the operational efficiency of clustering pads together (compressors, Zambonis to staffing ), as well as the upside to hosting events.
Debate began in earnest this week, and judging from initial feedback, sparks will certainly fly as residents question all aspects of the subject, including the premise that ice pads are not necessarily a public purse priority.
A declining population, aging demographics and the city’s financial reality will be among the arguments against pouring more money into new facilities. Supporters, on the other hand, will point to the economic spinoffs of sports tourism, the long-term benefits of modern multi-purpose community facilities and developments that attract and retain families.
Meanwhile, various and diverse camps will wrestle over the best and most promising location for such an investment.
The front-running option involves doubling-down on the recently renovated Memorial Gardens by attaching a pad or two on what is now Thomson Park, swallowing up the Rollie Fischer natural turf football field and Johnson ball diamond in the process. Two of the biggest challenges are engineering-related, the curse of filledin swampland with Chippewa Creek coursing through bound to add development costs. Just as scary is the traffic congestion on game days for the OHL Battalion, with several thousand vehicles already frustrating YMCA users and nearby residents.
A close second pick is expanding the Steve Omischl Sports Fields Complex at the southerly limits of the city, making use of the property to the west of the three ball fields. There’s bedrock to build on but the location is far from convenient and furthest from the city centre.
Other options include re-developing and expanding the Sam Jack’s complex, as well as outside the box thinking, such as redeveloping the Pete Palangio Arenas property or other locations.
Most likely the determining factor will boil down to providing the largest long-term potential return on investment while serving both community needs and expanding sports tourism opportunities.
National- and provinciallevel hockey events, for example, can’t be hosted here without connected regulation-size pads with at least six full-size change rooms.
Local taxpayers, understandably, are wary of the implications after careening into several past junctures with haphazard rationalization and questionable executions, often without effective consultations.
Omischl’s location, for example, is considered by many a mistake while the layout of three ball diamonds leaving much to be desired and poor surveying forced it over budget. The renovations to the Gardens that followed were rushed and the costs also higher than advertised, leaving many wishing the money was instead put into a new centre.
That stated, this will likely be the defining moment of this council, its members acutely aware they face municipal polls in a year.
In preparation for this column, I asked my Facebook friends for their thoughts and talked to several people in the thick of things. Many interesting points were raised and paraphrased below.
Is there really enough youth involved in expensive ice-sports to justify the investment even if some sports tourism can be gained?
If so, what about West Ferris needing/deserving the Sam Jacks complex? A twin-pad complex could be built there in stages.
What about partnerships with Canadore College and Nipissing University or even the Near North District School Board as it mulls over consolidating secondary schools?
Hopefully, all aspects and avenues will be thoroughly hashed out.
At this point, my recommendation would be to explore something like:
1) Add one more pad with stands for 1,000 fans to the Gardens with the option for another regulation pad in the future. (I would have to see the engineering plans for floating such buildings and where new road entrances will deal with congestion). The summer festival could finally have an indoor venue of real potential.
2) Fix the West Ferris roof, forget the ice pad concept and convert it into an all-season training centre operated by a sports cooperative for soccer, football and other fringe activities.
3) Start planning for a new twin pad at Omischl to eventually replace the humidity-challenged Pete Palangio Arenas (which could be sold to anyone looking for a twin-pad warehouse). Partnership opportunities would include the private sector or even the Near North board looking to consolidate secondary schools.
There are no limits, but hopefully it makes sense in the long run.
It will be interesting see what council decides, the litany of voices in their heads.
Will they find the spine to chart a bold and progressive course for the future or balk, fearing they don’t have the mandate to commit the city to such a big-ticket item?
We’ll know soon enough.