Third arena question on civic ballot gets thumbs down from council

The Record newspaper landed with a thud on my porch this week and there above the fold was a big story on the issue of a third arena in New Westminster. Now before you get too excited, it would appear, based on comments from Mayor Jonathan Cote, that our kids won’t be skating in a new arena at any time in the foreseeable future.

Cote tells the Record:

“The concept of having a third rink has been identified in the city’s long-range parks and recreation plans. Even in the Queen’s Park master plan, it was anticipated that a third rink would be located adjacent to the arena property…There already has been some preliminary thinking regarding that, but a lot more work has to be done in terms of the timing, the need.”

What the Mayor meant to say was “we want to thank the sports coalition for reminding us that our city needs a new arena…but it’s not even close to being on our political radar.”

As I’ve said previously, not only do we not know what year the new arena will be built – we don’t even know which decade. This is despite the fact the Official Community Plan just approved by council is calling for a denser population with a lot more families moving into New Westminster over the coming years.

Port Moody asked its citizens by way of a referendum if they wanted to invest in a new fire hall

According to city officials, the rink could cost as little as $8M to construct today – a time when we are experiencing record low interest rates.

Then you need to factor in that this project has a good chance of getting provincial and federal grants. This is especially true when you consider we have a full fledged cabinet minister representing us in Victoria now.

If the grants were approved, this would likely bring the city’s share of the cost to more like $2-3M…in other words, the price of a nice single family home in Queen’s Park. Let’s not forget that we can then amortize that expense over a number of years making the project all that more affordable.

It’s also interesting to hear the rationale provided by the Mayor and his District Labour Council slate regarding their opposition to putting this project on the ballot in 2018.

Cote tells the Record:

“Traditionally, the City of New Westminster does not do referendum for any infrastructure or recreation facilities. It’s not our common practice to use that. I think the major challenge with us going down that road is it doesn’t allow a community to evaluate all the different priorities in the community that really need to be looked at once…I know referendums are very popular south of the border, but they are a lot more rare up here. Traditionally, New Westminster has kind of developed its long-range capital programs and done so by doing appropriate studies, needs assessments and engaging the community to test the priorities.”

Interesting how council seems eager to dump other traditions like support for May Day…but claim the reason they can’t support putting this on the ballot is the fact we have traditionally not done this.

City of Vancouver regularly asks its citizens if they want to invest in new rinks & parks

With due respect to the Mayor and his colleagues, just because we have traditionally done something…doesn’t mean we can’t explore other ways to get our citizens engaged and supportive of major infrastructure projects.

It’s this type of “traditional” thinking which resulted in New Westminster having such a major amenity deficit. In fact, we’ve had almost no net new expansion of our recreation facilities since Moody Park Arena was opened in 1975 – that’s over 42 years!

The Mayor’s assertion that putting this on a civic ballot is something more commonly found south of the border in the US is simply inaccurate. A cursory search on Google will have you discover that neighbouring cities like Vancouver regularly put capital projects on the ballot – and they regularly get approved.

In Burnaby, they ask local citizens whether they want to expand their park system through the purchase and conversion of land. In Port Moody, they recently held a referendum asking for community support for a new fire hall. It too received over 50% support and the project was approved.

If New Westminster is going to accommodate all of the planned growth, we need to get moving now on building a third arena in addition to a new Canada Games Pool and Community Centre.

Sadly, what has become all too “traditional” in New Westminster is our civic politicians promising us new public amenties, only to find they take decades to research, plan, fund and operationalize. Our citizens deserve better. It’s time to “make it happen”.

If you’re interesting in participating at our upcoming organized sport delegation to city hall encouraging them to build a new rink, just drop me a line!

PS The opinions posted on my blog are my own – full stop!