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Province rejects McMeeken arena project funding; council to review options

CAO says ‘we’ll look for ways to advance this project’
20200526-McMeeken Centre summer stock-DT-02
W.J. McMeeken Centre. Darren Taylor/SooToday

A twin pad arena has been a long desired and much needed facility for Sault Ste. Marie, a city in which hockey and other ice-related activities border on the sacred.

However, the city has recently taken a hit, much like getting struck by one of Gordie Howe’s elbows, in the sense the provincial government has rejected the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s funding application for a twin pad arena.

Such an arena would replace the aging McMeeken Centre.

“It’s disappointing,” said Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano, speaking to SooToday.

“It didn’t get approved at the provincial level, and at the provincial level they send it on to the federal level for federal approval, but in this case they’re not sending it on, so there’s no question (it’s a disappointment).”

“City council identified this as the city's top priority for funding. We have done a lot of work to determine there’s a high need for the facility. Obviously we need our provincial and federal partners to assist with the build of the facility because the price tag of the facility is significant.”

The twin pad arena price tag is $24.8 million.

“The ICIP (Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program) was a national program and the percentages were set at 40 per cent from the federal government; 33.33 per cent from the province and 26.67 per cent from the City. So, for our project, the federal government would have contributed $9.9 million, the province $8.3 million and the City $6.6 million,” stated Tom Vair, Deputy CAO, Community Development and Enterprise Services, in an email.

“We saw this as a good project the three parties could participate on, specifically because the provincial and federal governments have earmarked funding for this specific type of project, so we are bothered that it hasn’t moved on,” Provenzano said.

“We’re disappointed in that and the matter will go to council. As to what’s next, staff will work through it and make some recommendations to council.”

“There are not very many options. Either we self finance it, which would be a significant load on the city’s tax base, we could try to wait for another funding opportunity, and if we do that, that means we’re using the McMeeken for quite a bit longer we had intended on and that could be a challenge, or you scale the project back,” Provenzano said.”

“The problem with scaling it back (to one pad) is not like you're having the cost cut in half if you scale it back, it’s not like going from $25 million to $12 million, it essentially goes from $25 million to around $17 million or $18 million, so you’re still going to be short a pad and you’re still going to have to self finance.”

Not to mention having one pad would defeat the whole purpose and dream of a twin pad arena.

“When are we ever going to go back out and spend more money on another pad? Probably not for decades. My feeling is if you’re going to do it, you want to do it right the first time,” Provenzano said.

The mayor said he is interested in finding out if an application for a similar project in North Bay was selected to move forward to the federal level.

“I’d be interested to see if their’s got selected to move forward, and if so, what the difference was between their selection and our selection. I haven’t read anything that would indicate theirs wasn’t approved.”

“City staff were very disappointed to receive the news that our project was not nominated by the provincial government. We are working with the Twin Pad Arena Committee to finalize our approach and present options to council in the near future. We will continue to look for ways to advance this project. There is a clear need based on the age and condition of the McMeeken Arena and the results of the comprehensive third party report looking at ice utilization,” CAO Vair wrote.

“We will look at all options including searching for any other funding sources, reducing the project and examining financing options,” Vair wrote.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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