September 25th, 2018

No city help for Arena, mayor thinks

By Collin Gallant on March 8, 2017.

NEWS FILE PHOTO Fans file into the Medicine Hat Arena for the farewell game on March 21, 2015. Mayor Ted Clugston says the city will listen to “all comers” with a plan for the Medicine Hat Arena, but, in his opinion, it shouldn’t consider subsidizing future operations in any way.

Mayor Ted Clugston says the city will listen to “all comers” with a plan for the Medicine Hat Arena, but, in his opinion, it shouldn’t consider subsidizing future operations in any way.

The mayor told reporters after Monday evening’s council meeting that the future of the 46-year-old facility, set to close permanently this summer, will be decided after an open call for proposals this spring.

“It will be open to all comers — real estate developers, hockey groups, whoever have the best idea,” said Clugston.

However, he added, groups should not expect operational funds or ongoing support.

“The city will not be spending operational dollars on the arena after June,” he said.

The $700,000 annual savings that will come with the closure goes toward a goal of cutting $1 million out of the municipal budget by 2018.

Last week a group of local business people and hockey administrators said they hoped to put together a business and fundraising plan to manage the Arena and another city rink.

But that didn’t necessarily mean taking ownership of the buildings, according to Bill Yuill, chair of the Save The Arena Committee. He said his group might be able to lower costs to the point the city would reconsider the closure by putting it under their management.

“That’s what we’re pursuing,” Yuill told the News, adding that more information on costs is required before a full plan is developed.

“Until we find out what (all) the numbers are we’re not going to declare one way or another. But we think that with some negotiation … we’d be able to operate it and save the city a lot of money. It may not cover 100 per cent, but certainly mitigate the current exposure.

“The goal would be to take the (loss) completely out.”

Local group hopes to save the Arena

The combined operating loss at the Arena, as well as the two-sheet Kinplex arena (which the group has also expressed an interest in managing) could total $1 million.

Kris Schultz, manager of Medicine Hat Minor Hockey, said the rink benefits a number of sports groups including figure skating, ringette, plus dryland sports, and the goal is to cover costs completely.

“It’s not being talked about to make a profit, but because the need is there,” said Schultz. “It would benefit 1,500 to 1,700 amateur athletes to keep the facility open.

“We’re confident that we can keep it open and run it.”

The Southeast Athletic Club operated last year with the Arena as its home base. Officials say 170 teams visited the city for hockey tournaments this season.

The hockey season will end at the Arena in April and the slab will then be used to host court sports and lacrosse.

The parks department plan is to not take bookings after June. While the ice-making plant will be turned off, it will not be decommissioned or dismantled.

At the time of the closure vote, administrators said they would develop a plan for the future of the building, which could include selling the building for use as an arena, or to be demolished and the site redeveloped.

The 2011 River Flats Redevelopment Plan denotes the area’s potential for commercial or condo development.

The Medicine Hat Arena doubled its operating loss last year — the first without income from Western Hockey League games that are now played at the Canalta Centre.

The Kinplex recovers about half its operating expenses but still requires $360,000 per year from the city budget to balance its books, according to a city ice facility review in 2016.

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