Not the ‘Arena Debate’ Again?!

Much like the seven-headed hydra of lore, the Greater Sudbury arena debate will simply not die. Lop off one argument and another two—each even more ridiculous than the original—take its place.

Now, before you go rolling your eyes at yet another column bemoaning the fortune being spent on the Kingsway Entertainment District or the slightly smaller fortune being proposed for Project Now’s refurbishment of the current downtown arena, know that we’re talking about an entirely different arena debate here. One much more impactful to the town of Capreol and our community’s long paid-for ice surfaces.

According to local media reports our city council is spending in excess of $200,000 of taxpayer money ‘surveying’ the site of the as yet still UNAPPROVED Valley East twin-pad. If you read that, scratched your head, and said, “This is BS?!”…well, you’re not alone.

For those unaware of the controversy, here’s a quick summary: The former community of Valley East found demand for its various arenas ice-time growing. Several of its current facilities are small, old, and in need of significant repair. Their councillor, Robert Kirwan (Ward 5), proposed that the City of Greater Sudbury (of which VE is now a part) close the most problematic rinks and fund a one-site twin-pad replacement. 

A design of the new community and recreation centre for West Ferris is displayed at city hall, Wednesday. Michael Lee/The Nugget

“What exactly is the problem?” you ask.

First, is the fact that not all the suggested arena closures are in VE. Capreol’s ‘Ice #1’ is on the chopping block. And, as the railroad town’s residents well know, shuttering one of Capreol’s ice surfaces means the other is doomed…it merely becomes a question of ‘When the axe will fall?’

Second, there’s the ill-considered location and ridiculously grandiose scope of the plan. The Valley East twin pad (VETP) is be built on greenspace adjacent to the local aquifer and next to the aging Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre along one of the busiest stretches of road in the area, the pot-holed and crumbling Elmview Drive. The projected price-tag is approximately $30 million and the facilities include a wealth of progressive amenities, including two NHL-size rinks, each with 400 seats; eight change rooms and referee change rooms per ice surface; see-through boards to allow sledge-hockey; a gym that includes space for indoor soccer training, pickleball, roller hockey and classes; a heated viewing area; concessions; and the possibility of an on-site restaurant*. There are plenty of further plans including significant upgrades to the few trails not destroyed in construction and the addition of an outdoor skating loop. There will be parking for 400 vehicles.

Any right-minded person would see that the case for building a twin-pad in Valley East is weaker than American beer, unfortunately the people making the decisions are politicians and their main argument, that the community** deserves twin NHL-sized ice surfaces, is downright laughable. The VETP would double the number of professional-sized rinks in the region—this despite the fact that current ones are not fully booked! Erecting two NHL-size arenas for minor hockey (three year olds do not need that much space) is insane.

That doesn’t even address the many reasons why keeping both of Capreol’s arenas open makes more sense—financially, politically, and from a pure ‘fairness’ perspective.

Before we get into the whys and why-nots of the debate let’s take a moment to point out the sheer gall shown by city council in moving forward—during a global pandemic, no less, and with the economy*** cratering to once-in-a-generation lows —on such a reckless and short-sighted spending spree. If the VEDP is voted down will the survey fees be returned? No! The only way for the city to gain value for their money is to move forward with construction. It is an underhanded tactic meant to bypass the will of the people. Unfortunately, no citizen’s group has yet to step forward with work-stopping nuisance lawsuits and unfounded governmental appeals—if any civic-minded soul wishes to step forward to lead the opposition they would find a wealth of public support.

So, why should the city keep both Capreol’s ice surfaces operating? We’ll get into the reasons over the next few weeks. Today we’re going to focus on the proverbial ‘bottom line’ and look at COST.

By far the biggest factor in favour of keeping the status quo is cost. Numbers do not lie. A few hundred thousand dollars—barely more than the city spent on surveying for the unapproved VEDP—could upgrade Capreol’s two pads and keep them functional for another three or four decades. Compare that to the $30 million being talked about for the monumental new double pad. And that’s just the estimate. We all know Sudbury is notorious for lowballing its estimates—the real cost could approach (or more likely pass) $50-60 million!

Keep in mind that Capreol built its arenas on its own, over the course of years. The town’s citizens fundraised through the community, sought out partners in the local business sector, and used something unheard of nowadays—volunteer labour. People scrimped and saved. Local hockey teams made due and cut corners to fund their project****. You could argue the little railroad town earned the right to its arena. Valley East is doing none of that for its double pad! Instead they are approaching city council hat in hand, begging for the needed funds.

Is it right that all of the region’s taxpayers should be on the hook for one community’s fever dream? Worse, should the people of Capreol have to pay for the very complex, an over-blown behemoth built to NHL standards, that is rendering their hard-earned community arena surplus? That’s like asking a condemned man to loop the noose around his own neck!

The choice is simple: fix what Capreol long-since paid for or go into hock—to the tune of MILLIONS!—in order to erect a colossal hockey palace.

No doubt councillor Kirwan’s fancy VETP castle will be the envy of everyone who drives past. It will also be cursed by taxpayers for generations to come. Voters should encourage the city to make the frugal decision, which is also the responsible decision, and put a stop to this white elephant.

*Despite the fuss being raised by a vocal and litigious minority in Sudbury about the ‘un-fairness’ of the KED, a publicly-funded building, drawing business away from long-established downtown restaurants, no one seems to care about this same competition in the Valley.

**No one ever specifies which community this over-ambitious idea will serve, neither Sudbury nor VE seem in desperate need of professional-calibre facilities!

***At all levels: local, provincial, federal, and international.

****Long before artificial ice the town relied on winter to freeze their arena’s playing surface. Shovels scraped the ice and a old barrel served to flood. They splurged and purchased a knock-off ice-resurfacing machine in the 1950s and were promptly sued by the Zamboni Company for their frugality—that cut-rate piece of machinery, strapped to the back of a tractor, maintained Capreol’s ice into the 1990s!

Posted on: October 4, 2020, by :