The new year is quickly turning into a confusing one. As a result, an untimely obituary is being prepared for a proposed sports and entertainment complex to replace Charlottetown’s Eastlink Centre. Perhaps someone can clarify what’s going on. A good start would be with city council, which is sending out mixed messages this week.
In a Guardian page one story Wednesday, Mayor Philip Brown said, even though the multi-use sports and events centre isn’t on Charlottetown’s list of capital projects this year, “. . . that doesn’t mean the issue is dead.” Of course it does. It clearly sounds the death-knell for this essential project. Prepare that obit.
If not this year, Mr. Mayor, when? This year offers the perfect window of opportunity. A P.E.I. provincial and a federal election both take place this year. What better time for commitments to fund the majority of the cost for the new complex? During campaigns, politicians are willing to make big promises. But not next year, when the elections are long over.
The province just recorded a record surplus and the economy is doing quite nicely. Ottawa is looking at projects to spend federal dollars on Build Canada infrastructure programs; and it would love to see big capital projects to keep employment figures at the lowest levels in 40 years. It looks great on campaign advertising. And the Canada Winter Games are coming to P.E.I. in 2023. A new arena would be the focal point and eligible for significant federal funding.
And this is where the real confusion mounts. Mayor Brown said the complex is not on the city’s list because it doesn’t qualify for Build Canada capital funding which is directed towards paving, water and sewer. Yet, two days later, in another front-page story, Mayor Brown is pushing hard for a new facility to replace aging Cody Banks and Simmons arenas, which the city has on its capital projects’ list. So, replacing the Eastlink Centre doesn’t meet criteria, but replacing two other arenas do? If anything, the complex is far more deserving of public dollars because of its much wider impact. What’s missing here?
It seems the cost factor is the key roadblock from the city’s viewpoint. And it goes back months and years. Former Mayor Clifford Lee was always cool or opposed to the new complex – unless someone else paid for it. During the civic election campaign last year, it was obvious that the new complex was scaring off candidates. No one wanted to support it or make it a campaign issue. It was only raised when the media asked a direct question during the first mayors’ debate.
The $20 million to replace Cody and Simmons is far more appealing to the city than the $80 million or more for the multi-purpose complex. Mayor Brown tipped his hand this week when he admitted that his concern with the complex is not necessarily with construction costs, but with the operational expenses once it opens.
The proposed Charlottetown complex would seat 5,000, based on the recommendations of a 2017 task force. The components inside the complex are similar to Summerside’s modern Credit Union Place, with the possible addition of a curling club since the Charlottetown Curling Complex is willing to come on board in a partnership agreement. (Three levels of government shared the cost in Summerside.)
If a new Charlottetown facility is going to host the 2023 Games, something definitive must happen soon. Before the city approves a replacement project for Simmons and Cody, it should re-consider its options for a tri-pad facility within the complex. It solves a lot of issues. The three levels of government must come on board now – especially Ottawa, which has major obligations to the Winter Games.
It’s time the city shows some long-range vision rather than rely on cheap, stop-gap measures. The Island capital should look at what other Atlantic cities have built for the future -- in Halifax, Moncton, St. John’s, Truro and Summerside; where civic leaders dared to dream and transformed those dreams into reality.
Mayor Brown is committed to holding public discussions on the sports complex. But, by the time talking is done, it will be too late. The elections will be over and the complex will be dead. And the 2023 Games will be stuck in a facility already deemed archaic when it opened for the Canada Winter Games in 1991.