Put third arena on 2018 civic ballot to address amenity deficit

With front page headlines in the local papers blaring out that New Westminster is about to get a new pool & recreation facility – please excuse me if I don’t readily fall into the camp of cheerleaders applauding council for investing in this much needed and long overdue piece of infrastructure.

My lack of enthusiasm has nothing to do with the fact our cherished Canada Games Pool is in desperate need of replacement. There are few willing to publicly argue this isn’t a top priority in terms of replacement – even at the whopping $100M estimated price tag to demolish and rebuild.

My issue is the length of time it’s taken for us to get here. There has been talk of replacing this ageing recreation facility for what feels like the better part of the last decade  and there are still no shovels in the ground.

The opening line in a Record news article sums it up quite nicely. Veteran reporter Theresa McManus states:

“Construction of a new pool and community centre could begin in 2020 if all goes according to plan.”

The Q2Q bridge connecting Queensborough and the Quay never materialized

Given the track record of the current council when it comes to announcements on major infrastructure projects, can you blame our local newspaper for hedging their bets?

This is the same publication that reported back in 2015 the new Q2Q bridge connecting Queensborough and the Quay was only “two to three years away” from opening.

It was recently revealed council had to abandon that high profile 2014 campaign promise. Councillor Patrick Johnstone summed up his feelings about this broken promise on his blog:

“Now that I am on Council, and am (in part) responsible for getting this [Q2Q] project done, the brutal reality of the project has set in. The bridge some of us may dream of may not be possible in this location, and the development of palatable compromises is daunting and frustrating at times. It is becoming a lesson for me about the reality of planning for community infrastructure when a local government’s power is so limited.”

Regardless of where you lean on the political spectrum, few would argue that New Westminster faces a major amenity deficit. Over the decades, we have had very little net new expansion in our sports and recreation services.

This is despite the fact that our children deserve new, safe facilities where they can learn to skate, play hockey and lacrosse with their friends and maintain an active lifestyle.  Our community deserves recreational facilities that allow us to host more frequent and larger tournaments and events that attract people to new Westminster and support local businesses.

As I’ve indicated before, other cities like Kamloops and Vancouver have invested in their sport tourism strategies and it has paid huge dividends.

The last major net new expansion of services was Moody Park arena which was built in the early 70s. Since then, council has merely been playing a wait and see approach to replacing and expanding these types of services – this despite the fact the city has experienced major population growth during this same period.

Our amenity deficit got even worse last winter with the collapse of the Arenex building shortly after we spent a load of tax dollars installing a new roof. All it took was one heavy snowfall and we lost even more sport and recreation capacity.

Queen’s Park Arena is a gem of facility, but it too was built by our ancestors in the 1930’s. Just imagine had they not had the foresight to make this type of investment, we would have only one indoor surface playing area to accommodate minor hockey, lacrosse and other sports.

The recently approved Official Community Plan is predicated on a lot of growth and new families moving into the Royal City. This growth will be taking place under a new modernized regime to charge developers more fees if they want to increase density in our city.

With more people living within our borders there will surely be increased pressure on our limited sports and recreation facilities.  That’s why if we don’t plan to address the amenity deficit now, it will only get worse.

Our beloved Arenex collapsed late in 2016 after some heavy snow

It’s for this reason I was so perplexed by the reaction of a small, but vocal minority of folks on Twitter who seem convinced we should not build a 3rd arena in New West. In my opinion, they are simply not reflective of the majority of residents – many of whom have moved here in the last decade – who feel the time has come for us to make these types of new investments to help facilitate more physical activity in our community.

In a recent Park and Recreation committee meeting, city staff estimated it would cost as little as $8M to build a new arena. As an added bonus, it’s also likely to be cost shared with senior levels of government and amortized over a number of years.

Some of the arguments against investing in a new arena simply don’t hold water.  There are those that say we shouldn’t build another arena due to the fact that lacrosse and hockey can result in concussions. We’d be better off supporting more soccer fields – asserted one tweeter.

I’m not a medical doctor, but the last time I checked using your head to bounce a regulation soccer ball at rapid speed – and repetitively year over year – can’t be that much better than playing hockey or lacrosse.

The alternative to increasing access for organized sport is we further limit opportunities for our kids to get physically active and have them laze on the couch surfing the web on their smart phones. How healthy is that?

If you think support for a third arena can trigger a firestorm on social media, just advocate that this issue be put on a civic ballot – then you will really set the fireworks ablaze.

I happen to believe putting this on the municipal ballot in 2018 is one of the best ways to ensure we get an arena built in the next 5 years – not in 2030. In fact, while the city is officially in support of a new arena, it has yet to even decide which decade it will be built – let alone what year.

Some of council’s closest advisors/supporters took to Twitter to attack me for having the audacity to argue this should be on the 2018 civic ballot – like so many other progressive cities do, not only in our region, but around the world.

While it is hard to assess why they are so opposed, it may simply come down to partisan politics. Putting this on the ballot would no doubt inspire a lot of new voters to come out to the polls – many for the first time. New voters flooding the polls could translate into a lot of “unknowns” when it comes to how they would vote for council or school board.

In other words, the current 7-0 political monopoly at city hall [endorsed by the District Labour Council] is worried that putting this type of initiative to the voters could seriously upset the apple cart.

When I put the question out as to why this capital project shouldn’t go on the ballot,  Jen Arbo, one of the Mayor’s staunchest supporters responded on Twitter by stating:

“Because voter turnout is shit and I elected people to make decisions.”

My response – if voter turnout is low, what better way to get people motivated to come out to the polls than giving them something tangible to vote for or against? In most jurisdictions, they call this a healthy and vibrant democracy.

I’ll have more to report  in the coming weeks about a special delegation being planned for city hall by an emerging coalition of organized sport.  Perhaps if city hall politicians and their closest advisors won’t listen to the parents, they will be more apt to act upon the requests of our kids. Stay tuned for more details to come!

PS The views expressed on this blog are my own – full stop!