Editor's note: the following was first published in the Nov. 13, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
Provincial officials have set a timeline for the Town of Harbour Grace to decide whether or not it wants to proceed with the construction of a new arena in the community.
And if the town cannot commit to the project by mid-December, it will be offered to “another town in the area,” Carbonear-Harbour Grace MHA Jerome Kennedy told The Compass last week.
“In these times of economic restraint, we can’t leave $21 million on the table forever without some indication from the town whether they are going to move ahead,” Kennedy stated.
Kennedy and Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien are “very concerned” with the ongoing uncertainty over the project, and “what did not appear to me to be very much progress.”
The ultimatum came during a meeting between Kennedy, O’Brien and town officials on Oct. 17.
“We put it to them squarely: do you want the stadium or not?” said Kenndy.
Kennedy stressed that it’s his preference that the rink be built in Harbour Grace, but added “someone has to make a decision on this.”
The provincial government announced 14 months ago that it would finance up to 80 per cent of $21-plus million for a new arena in Harbour Grace, replacing the venerable S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1958.
The project has been generating plenty of debate ever since, with many questioning whether Harbour Grace can afford the project. Two members of council — Wendell Hunt and David Murphy — have consistently voted against it.
If Harbour Grace were to move forward with a plan to accept the entire amount, its share would amount to some $3.8 million. Some town officials have acknowledged that’s too much for the town of 3,000 to handle on its own, and have reached out to neighbouring municipalities for help.
There have been several meetings to gauge the interest of other town councils, but it now appears that only Carbonear is serious about a regional approach.
After weeks of increasing skepticism and questions about the initiative, officials from both towns, along with two representatives from the Department of Municipal Affairs, met on Nov. 6 to discuss a way forward.
From that meeting, a committee comprised of deputy mayors Terry Barnes (Harbour Grace) and Ches Ash (Carbonear) and town administrators Lester Forward (Harbour Grace) and Cynthia Davis (Carbonear) was formed. The committee has been tasked to prepare a recommendation, which is expected to be voted on by the respective towns during separate council meetings on Nov. 19.
A joint-meeting is planned for Nov. 20 to discuss the outcome of the vote, explained Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs.
“We’ll decide whether to move ahead jointly, and if not, the towns of Harbour Grace or Carbonear can look at it and see if the opportunity is there to take it on by themselves. But right now it’s proposed to move ahead jointly,” Coombs said.
“We’re still in a process of gathering information in order to get to a point where it can be taken to the respective town councils,” added Forward. That includes projections on operating costs and revenues.
When asked if that means having Carbonear pick up a share of the capital costs on a per capita basis, and helping offset any annual operating subsidies, Forward replied: “Those are the things we’re talking about.”
Other considerations include a system by which the arena will be administered, and whether it will be a regional board similar to the one in place at Bay Arena in Bay Roberts.
The S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium is owned and operated by the Town of Harbour Grace, and annual subsidies range from $50,000 to $80,000, Forward noted.
Many feel that by working co-operatively, the region can build the arena it needs, modelled largely after the Jack Byrne Memorial Stadium in Torbay. That facility was constructed at a cost of some $15 million several years, but the price tag today for a similar facility would be in the range of $21 million, Forward explained.
If Harbour Grace were to go it alone, Forward suggested the town might have to downsize the project.
“Can Harbour Grace afford a stadium that’s between $12 and $15 million? Maybe,” he said.
Kennedy is not sold on the idea of paring down the project, suggesting it “would not be the best use of the money.”
Coombs agreed, stating “I don’t believe that would be necessary, based on assets we have we can dispose of and financing terms and everything else.”
Forward said it would be a mistake to overburden the town by taking on too much debt for a new stadium, since other priorities — water and sewer, road upgrades and more — cannot be overlooked.
Forward said one option being considered is raising a portion or all of the municipal share through sponsorship and the sale of the existing stadium.
“Will it be necessary to borrow that whole amount? These are things that are being explored,” Forward said.
Carbonear Mayor Sam Slade did not attend last week’s meeting, but reiterated his belief that public consultations will be needed before council makes any firm decisions.
“We have no mandate to move without having consultations,” said Slade. “The people of Carbonear elected us … when we talk about taking that kind of money and putting it into another community, we do not have that mandate.
“But if the people tell me this is a good thing, I will sign on the bottom line.”
Engineering and design
Meanwhile, it’s now been two months since the Harbour Grace town council made its recommendation to the Department of Municipal Affairs about what company should be awarded the contract to carry out the engineering and design work on the project.
Six firms submitted proposals, and the top company was selected on a specialized scoring system. Officials from the town and Municipal Affairs scored the proposals, Forward explained.
O’Brien has not yet signed off on the town’s selection.
One of the issues to be determined by the firm is location. Forward said there are two, and possibly a third, location under consideration, and he brushed off any suggestion that it might be constructed outside of Harbour Grace, perhaps in Carbonear.
“As far as I’m concerned it will be in Harbour Grace,” he said.
When asked when construction might begin, Forward said late 2013 is a likely target.
“Harbour Grace and Carbonear have come together on this and we’re doing our best to make it happen. If there’s a way to make it happen, we will,” Forward said.