With several members of the Onaping Falls Huskies in the audience, members of the community service members called on local minor hockey officials to make better use of arenas in Greater Sudbury.
Meeting Jan. 21 to go over the long-awaited Arena Renewal Strategy, councillors were told local arenas would require more than $24 million in capital costs over the next 10 years. The average age of arenas in Greater Sudbury is 40 years old, with Sudbury Community Arena more than 60 years old.
Arena usage is higher in numbers in the Valley, south end and Minnow Lake areas of Sudbury. We should have one ice pad for every 405 residents, the report found. According to that calculation, and population projections, we have a surplus of one ice pad.
The strategy also outside outlined usage rates for arenas, and found that I.J. Coady Arena in Levack had the lowest rate, at 24 per cent. That prompted a recommendation that arenas in Levack and Azilda be closed and an extra ice pad be added in Chelmsford.
It would be the most cost-effective route to go, the report concluded, since construction costs and annual operating and capital costs would almost be the same.
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau praised the report, says it has upset some people, but staffers were just doing their job in giving councillors options.
He said by not replacing Sudbury Arena, the city is missing out on opportunities. For example, it’s harder to attract OHL players, and the city can’t host events like the Memorial Cup or World Championships.
Barbeau asked if there's a way to increase use of the arena in Levack, for example, by reducing ice time rates.
Real Carre, the city’s director of leisure services, said Capreol and Levack ice time rates are already “tier 3,” which means they're already discounted.
“It depends on what council’s position would be on further subsidizing these rates,” Carre replied.
Ward 4 Coun. Claude Berthiaume said this is the first time council has seen this information, and it’s just part of a long-term, process. Berthiaume says he likes the idea of adding an ice pad in Chelmsford, but “not at the detriment of Levack.” He ran for office on the promise of maintaining services, he said, and he’s committed to that. Arenas are very important to small communities.
“We’re not running a business,” Berthiaume said, adding that some of the services the city provides won’t make money.
Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett said the arena in Levack can be saved, just like the Dow Pool in Copper Cliff, which the community rallied to save from closure.
He also asked why, when the city subsidizes kids to play minor hockey, why the city lets hockey groups use rinks in other towns, when arenas such as Levack are under used.
Staff responded that they couldn’t demand sports associations only use certain rinks, but that they can request their cooperation.
“I do agree with the comments about coercing our minor hockey groups to use our arenas," agreed Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli. “It’s only fair that all ... the teams have to travel a bit. Maybe we can’t make them, but we can talk to them.”
Committee chair Ron Dupuis said the goal is to maintain as many ice surfaces in as many communities as they can. He reminded the crowd that the report was for information only, meaning no decision to close any arenas was close.
He also couldn’t figure out why minor hockey groups don’t use Levack and Capreol rinks more often, which are often closer than alternative rinks.
“It’s critical we meet with all our arenas users and ask them for input on how we can generate additional revenues,” Dupuis said. “This is something people are passionate about, and you can’t blame them.”
City staff said they would meet with minor hockey organizations to get their input before the matter returns to councillors.