Ice pads a hot topic

Changes must sat­isfy broad com­mu­nity needs while ex­pand­ing sports tourism po­ten­tial

North Bay Nugget - - FRONT PAGE - Dave Dale

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.

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