EDITORIAL: Proposed Harbour Grace arena another example of failed governance structure

Terry Roberts
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Barring any major problems, it's now very likely that within a couple of years, a new stadium will open its doors in the Town of Harbour Grace and the venerable S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium will fade into history.

Terry Roberts is the regional editor for The Compass, The Aurora and The Labradorian newspapers

It will come four or five - maybe even six - years after the provincial government first announced it would pay up to 70 per cent of the capital cost, with the remainder to be paid by the town.

But when the keys are handed over to town officials, it's also a certainty that the facility will not have been built to the size and scope of what had initially been envisioned.

Will it rival the impressive arenas in Torbay and Clarenville?

That remains to be seen, but it's unlikely if you consider the controversial and uncertain path this project has taken since it was first announced in late summer 2011.

For several years, cost estimates for the project topped the $21 million mark, with hopes for two ice surfaces, seating for 1,200, a walking track, space for town offices and much more, perhaps even curling.

But questions about whether the town of just over 3,100 citizens could afford the facility emerged even before the ink was dry on the news release.

And while the process for building similar facilities in Conception Bay South and Paradise have progressed nicely, not a single shovel has clawed into the ground in Harbour Grace.

Why? Largely because there have been questions about whether the town could afford the facility. The provincial government has ordered several reviews of the town's financial situation, and only recently did senior government officials state publicly that it was onside with the project.

But the once-enthusiastic tone is now considerably understated, with town officials confirming last month it hopes to build the arena at a total cost of some $14 million. That's more than $7 million below figures that were being bandied about until just recently, and considering the rate at which construction costs have increased since 2011, the impact of this reduction will be significant.

So will area residents have to settle for a stripped down version of what was originally proposed? We already know that hopes for a two-ice surface facility have been tossed, and instead of 1,200 seats, town leaders are now saying the seating capacity will be less than 800.

So despite reassurances from town leaders that the new facility will be on par with other next-generation sports complexes in eastern Newfoundland, it's becoming blatantly clear that corners are being cut so taxpayers in Harbour Grace are not overburdened by the cost of this project, and future operating costs.

It's reassuring that town leaders are acting responsibly and not biting off more than the town can chew. But is all this necessary? Should a small town of 3,100, nestled amongst a gaggle of 11 other towns along some 40-plus kilometres of coastline, have to shoulder this financial burden on its own?

Clearly not. It's yet another example of the inefficient and ineffective governance structure in Conception Bay North.

From Salmon Cove to Brigus, there are some 25,000 citizens (2011 Census) and a dozen incorporated towns. That's right on par with the Town of Conception Bay South, which was created in 1973 following the very successful amalgamation of nine communities along a coastline of 20 kilometres.

Imagine if the 12 communities in CBN were united as the Town of Conception Bay North? Would we be nickel and diming this project? Absolutely not. Would the project be well underway. Very likely.

Imagine sharing the capital cost for this project on a regional level, and then imagine the type of facility that could be built.

Imagination is a wonderful thing.

— Terry Roberts

Geographic location: Conception Bay South, Harbour Grace, Torbay Conception Bay North Eastern Newfoundland Salmon Cove Brigus

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  • Jack Rose
    July 24, 2014 - 19:46

    Without question, the town of Harbour Grace has had to carry the burden of the stadium for the past half century or more. This has been an amazing contribution to the CBN area. As commented by others if we had a CBN town the cost could be spread over the entire area that the stadium serves. That would be only fair and appropriate......it is not like a piece of pavement or a section of water line for an individual community yet it is treated that way by the provincial government 80/ 20 cost sharing is fine for a single town but a regional facility should fall into a separate category ....its own category if necessary. After all incorporated towns have always born the cost of snow clearing for unincorporated small towns.....When a town like Harbour Grace agrees to accept the responsibility of a new facility wherein at least 2 or 3 electoral districts use it, then where is the contribution from the other users of the facility. As said by others , if we were more regionalized we would have our much larger tax base to have our 2 rinks, curling, walking areas for healthy living etc....hopefully reducing our costs to our health care system. But the fact remains that we are not a CBS type union of the many...and to make that happen would take another unacceptable time frame to accomplish. However, what the stadium is .....is a regional facility in function if not in legal amalgamation. Until such time as a CBN community is a reality we should be operating under a formula of construction and maintenance that reflects the regional nature of the unit. It should be built according to the needs of the region not the financial ability of a single community. I repeat...this is not in reality a town project...the government should not treat it like one. FOR THE 5 OR 6 DECADES that the town has done this job....they should get a medal of appreciation from the government and for building a new facility in town to continue the process. The government should take off their blinders and support the region properly by paying a regional share to the town so they can build a proper facility and commit to a regional grant to help offset the costs of annual maintenance. Basing government support on a small town's revenues is really short changing the region and putting an untenable burden on a struggling community. Where are the Leadership candidates for the PCs and the leaders of the other parties on this one....I'd like an answer to this on behalf of all the residents of CBN and the surrounding areas.

  • Gary
    July 23, 2014 - 20:02

    I couldn't agree more.

  • Patrick Collins
    July 23, 2014 - 19:38

    I totally agree totally with this sentiment. I have advocated this for years. There must be a way to get this on the agenda so that like-minded citizens can take action and get the ball rolling towards a newer, more innovative approach to governance. Notwithstanding the hard work of present councillors in Harbour Grace or other CBN areas, a grassroots committee should get the all rolling.

  • Michelle clearly haire
    July 23, 2014 - 09:42

    So well said and so very true!