‘We need a win’
West Hants council approves arena project at Hants County Exhibition location
If the arena project were a hockey game, West Hants just approved it in overtime.
After years of debate, back-andforth, studies, and hurt feelings, Windsor will finally be getting a new arena, thanks to the Munici- pality of West Hants.
In a unanimous vote Aug. 21, West Hants council approved a motion to guarantee approximately $4.5 million in funds to be put towards an arena at the Hants County Exhibition grounds, located off of Wentworth Road in Windsor.
West Hants’ arena project is estimated to cost $10.5 million in total, which includes the 44,000 square foot facility, parking lot, HST, land purchase from the Windsor Agricultural Society, and a 20 per cent contingency. However, the design has yet to be finalized.
The project could also allow for future expansion via a second phase, which could incorporate an indoor soccer rink, which would be considered at a later time.
The meeting on Aug. 21 was called quickly, after the municipality decided to pursue their own project, following Windsor council’s decision earlier in the month to pull the Long Pond arena project. Windsor’s council cited cost overruns and community division for why they couldn’t pursue the project.
West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian said he wanted to ensure the region didn’t lose out on an opportunity to secure a combined $6 million in provincial and federal funding.
“It’s obvious that council recognized the need for a successful conclusion to this project saga,” Zebian said. “We need a win.”
Several councillors raised concerns, including the potential for the tax rate to increase if West Hants is on the hook for the entire $4.5 million, and potentially dipping into the reserve funds.
Zebian said he was hopeful that the Town of Windsor, corporate sponsors and fundraisers will rally around this new project.
“With a very short period of time, we wanted to present what would be the worst case scenario to our council and residents, and even the worst case scenario is still pretty good,” he said.
“The support is still there from the earlier proposal, it’s just shifted to this site,” Zebian continued.
“I’m more than confident that we’ll be breaking ground by May (2019) and all of the money will be accounted for,” he said.
Paul Phillips, president of the West Hants Minor Hockey Association, said he was thrilled with the municipality’s decision, saying the area needs two ice surfaces.
“We needed something, we were happy with whatever location it was going to be,” Phillips said after West Hants voted. “I think regardless of where your position was, for Long Pond or against it, I think people will be on board with this. It’s a good thing for the community.”
West Hants Chief Administrative Officer Martin Laycock said the next steps the municipality will take will be working with provincial representatives to make sure the application proceeds through the Small Communities Fund.
“I think our biggest thing is to get the fundraising component up and running and I’ll be reaching out to (CAO Louis Coutinho) who has some experience with this,” he said.
‘Good luck on your project’
Windsor town council voted to support the West Hants arena project to the tune of $1 million spread out over five years.
The funds will come from the operational reserve account ($800,000) and capital reserve ($200,000).
Money will begin flowing once the project breaks ground.
During a packed special meeting of council on Aug. 23, which included several members of West Hants council in the audience, Windsor councillors agreed that a new ice surface is necessary to meet the recreational needs of the region, despite some discomfort with the lack of detail in the proposal.
Now the question remains where West Hants will get the remaining funds to offset its financial commitment for the project, be it through community fundraising or corporate sponsorship.
The facility would be subject to town property tax, as it sits within town limits, unless West Hants council requests a tax exemption from the town and the town approves.
Before council approved the grant, councillors discussed what the best way to deliver those funds would be, eventually settling on $1 million over five years for financial confidence.
“I would be more confident in spreading that (funding) as the project evolves,” Mayor Anna Allen said. “Instead of a million out front, this allows us an opportunity to support the hockey heritage projects.”
The town’s CAO noted that the proposal plan lacks details, but given the tight time frame in which to meet the Small Communities Fund deadline, that was to be expected.
Coun. Jim Ivey wanted to see the town’s contribution spread out over three years, but council stuck with five.
A previous motion to allocate $1 million in funding towards hockey heritage initiatives was rescinded.
Coun. Shelley Bibby began to cry as she read a prepared statement during discussions, highlighting the division in the community as the debate over the arena project took its toll over the past four years.
“I will comment that the journey of this project has been a demon- stration of everything that can possibly go wrong with a community endeavour,” Bibby said.
“What started as an idea from what I believe to be some sincere and well-intentioned citizens then became a collaborative community effort but somehow morphed into a battle of winners and losers, he said/she said and bitter and nasty statements…,” she continued.
“But I will tell you that there have been times that I am embarrassed to admit that I am an elected official in this community,” she added.
Bibby said that she would support $1 million going towards the rink project as long as something is done to acknowledge and support the hockey heritage at Long Pond and other sites.
A new motion was put on the books, asking the CAO to find ways to identify hockey heritage options around the Long Pond site in collaboration with the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society.
“Thank you West Hants and good luck on your project,” Allen said after the motion was approved.
This is an artist’s rendering of what the new West Hants arena could look like when built on Wentworth Road in Windsor.