Harbour Grace stadium held up by financial concerns

Town councillors frustrated about lack of answers from government

Melissa Jenkins melissa.jenkins@tc.tc
Published on May 2, 2014

For those looking for answers from the Town of Harbour Grace on the proposed $21 million stadium, it will likely be the end of May before more information is available.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Kent spoke with The Compass May 1 after a brief meeting with Harbour Grace Mayor Terry Barnes and Coun. Hayward Blake in St. John’s.

It was determined an analysis of the town's finances has been the reason for the delays.

“Our commitment to the project hasn’t changed,” Kent explained. “In recent months we have been working hard with the Town of Harbour Grace to ensure the town can afford the construction and operation costs.”

Barnes said a feasibility report began late last year to see if the town’s financial situation would support the original plan of two ice surfaces. It was submitted to the department, along with approval from a banking institute for a loan of some $3 million, the town’s share of the 80/20 split.

When it was determined a single ice surface would be more financially justifiable at this time, the town altered the plan and resubmitted the adjusted numbers to the department in February.

That was the last update the town council received until the meeting with Kent.

Concerns about cost

The original announcement for the stadium was in 2011. Since then, a site has been chosen (Jamie’s Way off Veterans Memorial Highway), committees have been put in place and the engineering company Stantec has completed reports on the future facility.

A stadium manager is also being recruited. This person will be responsible for the current arena, the S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium in the town, but will be a part of the planning for the new facility, as well as run it.

There was discussion several years ago that a neighbouring community would assist in operating costs to make it a regional facility. But there were some disagreements that prevented a partnership.

Barnes stated the facility will be regional.

“Spaniard’s Bay, Upper Island Cove, Harbour Grace, Carbonear, all the way to Old Perlican on the North Shore will get to use the facility,” Barnes said. “I believe that makes it regional, even if the Town of Harbour Grace is paying (operating costs).”

Steve Kent said the financial responsibility on one individual community must not be a burden for taxpayers or a waste of funding, and said the careful examination of finances is a “normal part of our assessment process.”

Barnes previously told The Compass the town is in a good financial position and wasn’t sure what the hold up was. But this meeting was a step in the right direction.

After the meeting, Barnes explained Kent would be visiting Harbour Grace in the coming weeks to review the financials with the town and make an announcement on proceeding if everything is in order.

“An analysis will be done by the end of May,” Kent said. “Then we will be meeting with the town to agree on the next step.”

If everything goes smoothly, the announcement will follow, he added.

“If not, we would have to have a serious conversation (with the town),” Kent said.

Delays not political

Concerns have been raised in the past about the delays at the stadium being linked to the Carbonear-Harbour Grace district voting in a Liberal MHA during a November byelection.

Sam Slade, who won that byelection, has been vocal in the community about fighting for the stadium. He announced last week he would bring up the issue on May 5 in the House of Assembly.

But Kent, who is a member of the governing Tories, has assured The Compass the decision has not been politically driven.

“Residents of Harbour Grace and in the region can take comfort in two things,” Kent said. “We are still supportive of the project and funds are still allocated for (it). And we are making sure that communities can afford (the costs).

“We expect to have answers and a path forward over the next month.”

Councillors frustrated

Meanwhile, at the town’s regular council meeting April 30, several councillors spoke out against the delays. Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams explained she had been contacted by numerous residents, but had few answers to give them. She wants the process sped up.

“This is a facility that every member (of council) wanted, and we still don’t have a sod turned,” she stated. “We have to keep pushing.”

Coun. Tony McCarthy is normally quite reserved, but the situation has left him frustrated.

“My patience has run out with the new arena,” McCarthy asserted.

He then said he would go to other media, including open-line radio shows about the situation, if answers weren’t soon available.

The next council meeting for the Town of Harbour Grace will be Tuesday May 13 at 7:30 p.m. At that time, it is expected a new stadium manager, who will be in charge of the new stadium when completed, will be in place.