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

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on July 22, 2014
Terry Roberts is the regional editor for The Compass, The Aurora and The Labradorian newspapers

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.

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