“Instead of just replacing one arena with another, why not do something that is going to have a greater benefit for the community?”
The point was made by Jamie Lowery, spokesperson for the North Bay group interested in replacing the West Ferris arena with a twin-pad arena complex at the North Bay Mall site.
Lowery was the guest speaker at the North Bay Sports Old-Timers luncheon.
“We’ve got to do a lot more thinking about how we invest in the community. We need to think about the broader issues in the community.“
The plan is to develop a community hub, bringing life back to West Ferris.
“We’ve maintained that it's got to be more than just an arena. Its got to do something more than just replace one pad. By creating this hub, you’re really pulling the community together, and there’s something in it for everyone, as much as you can, and I think that’s important because it’s a community building,” said Lowery.
The group spokesperson says the YMCA becomes a strategic partner.
“They have a very tight formula when it comes to what programs will work. A lot of social programs are missing, and daycare has been identified as one of the areas that need to be addressed. Youth employment services is another one, and I hear from the Cassellholme folks that having a senior’s drop in, where people can get together, do some programming and reconnect, is important. I really strongly feel that isolation in your senior years is a devastating thing to face.”
He went on to explain that either one of the group's designs would be a good fit for West Ferris.
“The one design is conventional, which is twin pads similar to Pete Palangio, but one will have a spectator bowl of sorts, about 500 seats, and the other will be more like a practice arena,” explained Lowery.
“The other design that’s of interest is a stacked arena. Two rinks stacked on top of each other, instead of side by side. You reduce the amount of footprint that you need for the rink. That will increase the amount of parking, and there’s also that allure of having something unique. So bringing in people from all over who will say ‘what does a stacked arena look like’? It’s not a new technology. If people know the old Maple Leaf Gardens, they have the food store in the bottom and they have the arena on the top.”
He even suggested summer usage for programs such as basketball camps.
“In our initial submission, we’ve outlined programming for winter and summer, with the option of keeping one pad in or taking both out, depending on what the programming looks like. There’s lots of flexibility available to the city and the operators when it comes to the space.”
The group, which includes North Bay Battalion head coach Stan Butler, isn’t prepared to divulge the cost of its designs.
“The city has predicted it will cost them about $30 million just to do the arena. Our group is fairly confident it’s not going to be that much, but because we’re still in a competition, I don’t want to say how much it’s going to be.”
The financial plan is to go the' public-private' route.
“But it’s not a traditional one because the land will be sold to the group, to this sort of consortium, from the mall. It will be more like, we’ve built this, you can lease it from us. So it’s not like a traditional PPP. It’s a bit of a blend of a relationship. It’s really partners coming together and trying to put something together that’s going to be a benefit to not only the community but to the mall and obviously to the developers as well.”
He went on to say a parking demand in any kind of development like this will be required.
That will determine whether more land is needed, or if they should consider moving further into the mall.
“If you’ve been to the mall in the winter time, they store a lot of their snow in that parking lot, and I would think that by having some kind of a relationship with the city to have that snow taken off-site would certainly alleviate a lot of parking issues there,” said Lowery.
“It’s a fairly fluid process at this point. We want to make the best deal, and if you’re set on a certain thing, and a certain way of doing it, I can tell you it’s not going to happen. Having some flexibility on the city’s part, and on the user’s part, you can deliver a product that’s going to be great.”
Lowery says they need to be competitive in order to be successful.
“I’m certainly not going to give away the store to make this thing happen. I’ve been very clear, with all the partners, it has to be financially responsible for it actually to work. We’ve met with the mall owners, they are very keen to be involved, and we’ve got the bones of a deal there.”