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Fair cries foul over arena flap

After being sidelined for two years because of COVID-19, the Armour Ryerson Burk's Falls Agricultural Society is preparing to once again hold its annual fair Labour Day Monday. However, the issue has become where to hold the event.
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After being sidelined for two years because of COVID-19, the Armour Ryerson Burk's Falls Agricultural Society is preparing to once again hold its annual fair Labour Day Monday.

 However, the issue has become where to hold the event.

 Up to 2020, the fair was held on the arena floor of the Armour Ryerson Burk's Falls Arena, with Burk's Falls municipal employees removing the summer ice for the one-day event and then putting it back in.

 But in between the time the last fair was held and now, a new arena manager was hired.

 This will be Graham Smith’s first time overseeing the agricultural fair.

 During a presentation on where the society can host this year's fair, Smith reminded Burk's Falls council that at the time he was hired he was tasked with finding “efficiencies and cost savings at the arena and to increase revenues.”

 With that approach in mind, Smith's report to council recommends leaving the ice alone and relocating the fair away from the arena floor.

 Smith's report states removing the ice is not an efficient use of the arena, the municipal employees or tax dollars.

 For example, if the ice is to come out, a contractor needs to be hired to carry out that task.

 And it won't be cheap.

 Smith's report suggests the fair take place elsewhere in the building such as the lobby and Karl Crozier Room, in addition to the municipality offering vendors its three tents so some of the events can take place outside the arena building.

 Smith said this is a difficult recommendation to make because for years the 140-year-old society has been allowed to hold the fair on the arena floor and acknowledges the recommendation will disappoint the organization.

 In fact, Smith's report contains a reference to an email from the society to the arena staff stating that holding events outside will subject the vendors to wind and blowing sand.

 The email further states vendors may refuse to take part if they can't be inside the arena, which means reduced revenue collected by the society.

 However, Smith also pointed out that most fairs, farmers' markets and festivals are outdoor events with vendors providing tents.

 But in the event the society loses vendors because of how this year's fair is carried out, Smith suggested Burk's Falls council could compensate the society for potential lost vendor revenue.

 Smith's report shows he looked into putting a temporary floor covering over the ice for the fair but ultimately rejected it because of the tremendous expense.

 His report indicates buying a floor to cover the ice would cost $150,000 to $225,000. There are also the costs of insulation and tarps plus when not in use, the municipality has to find a place to store the wood that makes up the floor.

 Smith notes South River uses a wooden floor to cover its arena ice and it would cost $5,000 to rent it from South River.

 But then there's the transportation cost to get that floor to Burk's Falls, and it would take staff a week to install the wood.

 Smith said according to South River, heavy vehicles cannot drive over the floor.

 Further complicating this scenario is the floor becomes cold for the vendors because it sits right over the ice.

 Smith says they would experience a temperature change in the 25 degree Fahrenheit range.

 Smith said Burk's Falls can buy insulation at a cost of $10,000 to hold back the cold and add a tarp for a further $1,200, but now the municipality is just adding to the rental cost which started at $5,000.

 And if insulation is added, Smith says absolutely no vehicles can drive over the floor.

 The arena manager says the other cost council has to consider is the revenue the municipality loses while the ice is out of commission in order to accommodate the society's one-day fair.

 Smith told council “at no point do arenas make money” but he added it's his “duty to lessen that cost to the best of (his) ability.”

 “It's also my duty to work with local user groups,” he said.

 Although Smith's report recommends relocating the fair for this year and future years and for council to provide some assistance to the society to ease the impact relocation may cause, council is holding off on making a decision for now.

 Council prefers arena staff to again meet with the agricultural society with all parties visiting the arena so Smith's recommendation can be further evaluated.

 Following that meeting, the council will hold a special meeting to discuss where the society can hold the Labour Day fair.

 Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.