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OPINION Central arena location has its benefits

The Multi-use Recreational Facility Feasibility Study [MURF] submitted its report to City Council in early 2013. Almost 5 years later, the study continues to be a relevant influence in planning for a new arena today.
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memorial gardens turl 2015
Memorial Gardens on Chippewa St. Photo by Jeff Turl.

By Mike Finner, North Bay

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The Multi-use Recreational Facility Feasibility Study [MURF] submitted its report to City Council in early 2013. Almost five years later, the study continues to be a relevant influence in planning for a new arena today.

Stressing the benefits of recreation for individual health and community well-being, the report went on to encourage municipal investment in multi-use recreational facilities catering to diverse interests and ages.

With respect to our arenas, the study found that while well maintained, they were aging, poorly designed, undersized for competitive play, poorly suited to accommodate large tournaments, not as efficient as they could be, and costing more to maintain as they age.

Accordingly, the study recommended a number of options for renovating and/or replacing one or more of our arenas.

The MURF committee officially disbanded after its report was tabled. Unlike the committee, the report was not shelved.

Developments and events over the ensuing 4 years show an indirect but clear reference to the influence of the study. While the MURF had nothing to do with the arrival of the Battalion, the upgrades to Memorial Gardens to accommodate an OHL franchise included many improvements recommended in the study. The engineering inspection that prompted the removal/renovation of West Ferris arena highlighted similar deficiencies identified in the study. The study’s description of various partnership models had at least some influence on Canadore and the City initiating talks to partner on a multi-use recreational facility. Finally, with a breakdown in the talks and facing the imminent demise of the West Ferris arena, the City, in late 2016 announced it would begin the process of replacing West Ferris “with specific reference to confirming the needs identified in the…MURF study.”

Council has established a subcommittee to investigate and make recommendations to the full Council regarding the number of ice pads, site selection, and funding options. The subcommittee acknowledged the relevance of the MURF study as a resource in its investigations.

The subcommittee’s mandate was to investigate municipal-owned sites: West Ferris Arena, Memorial Gardens, and Omischl Sports Complex.

However, to give other plans a fair hearing, the subcommittee agreed to hear alternate site proposals from Nipissing University, the Near North Board, the Pinewood Park area, and a Nipissing and/or Canadore plan on College drive.The subcommittee has referred these proposals to the full Council to request an RFP from each proposal for further consideration. Meanwhile, deficiencies unearthed at the West Ferris site-foundation, electrical, ice plant, accessibility, rink size, and HVAC system- were considered too intensive for either an upgrade or a dual pad replacement. Geotechnical engineering studies on the subsurface at both the Gardens and Omischl indicated both sites were suitable for further examination.

The MURF was pretty clear in its support for the Garden’s site. Citing considerable public support from its surveys and consultations, the MURF viewed the Gardens' site as “excellent,” and presents an opportunity to expand the community’s recreation infrastructure.

I can see other advantages of the Gardens' site:

  • Based on the heavy investment already made in the Gardens to improve functionality, comfort, and ability to host sporting events, why not build on its viability? It’s our city’s highest-profile sports venue, full of nostalgic memories of North Bay’s ice history. We could take pride in inviting teams and visitors to a first-class multi-use facility.
  • The Gardens location gives maximum accessibility to residents and visitors alike. Located in the city’s core, the site is close to downtown, a shopping centre, and a thoroughfare highway; it offers reasonable proximity to residential areas. It could become a highly visible community focal point.
  • Pairing a multi-use facility with the Gardens would result in operational efficiencies and economies of scale; bookings, scheduling, cleaning, budgeting, allotting dressing rooms, ice making, non-ice activities, and general administration could all be better coordinated.
  • Operational savings will be further maximized by linking up a new dual pad with the electrical microgrid presently under construction at Thomson Park. Connecting the grid to the YMCA, Gardens and to the new pads is projected to save approximately $200,000 annually. With the additional benefit of offering residents refuge in the Gardens and YMCA during a prolonged blackout, wouldn’t the dual pad provide shelter to additional residents?
  • The above points: location, operational savings, the appeal of the upgraded Gardens connected to a multi-pad arena enhance the opportunity for additional Sports Tourism revenue. The coordinated arena could better accommodate larger tournaments, bid for provincial and national events – Royal Bank Cup, Telus Cup, Esso Cup and host non-ice entertainment and competitions.

There are concerns surrounding the Gardens site.

Among them: loss of Rollie Fischer and Johnson Field; negotiating with the Battalion; and Parking, Parking, Parking! There are alternate sites for slo-pitch and the Bulldogs such as Near North property and/or other municipal sites. An access road to Fisher may have to be costed. But my arguments are that the Gardens should be the FIRST option, not the only option. If the issues with it become prohibitive then we go to option #2. But the Gardens' site deserves detailed consideration first.

This will probably be our facility for the next 50 years. Let’s get it right.

Mike Finner

Director,  North Bay & District Trappers AAA Association