Update 6:40 p.m.:
Penticton city council voted unanimously to take the next step along the path to a new arena facility, endorsing the Arena Task Force’s recommendation at a special council meeting.
“This isn’t the final decision from council on how to proceed,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.
The decision had to be made tonight in order to meet a deadline to apply for a grant from the Gas Tax Strategic Priorities Fund.
“What we do today allows us to complete the grant application by July 31. The grant is part of the funding strategy, there will be many other parts,” said facilities manager Bregje Kozak. “It’s going to take a whole lot of steps to get there. The grant application is the first one.”
Work will now begin on developing not only a funding strategy but working on myriad other issues that need to be resolved.
“More research needs to be done about parking, that actual costs,” said Coun. Helena Konanz, naming a couple of the concerns raised during the community consultation process.
“We know as a committee that we cannot put the complete burden on the taxpayers,” said task force chair Stewart Ladyman. That will be a key element of the funding strategy, he added, as the community waits for word the grant application, expected later this year.
Kozak said one of the reasons for recommending the twin sheet option was that it offered the greatest possibility for generating revenue. It also allows the possibility of building a single sheet first and adding to it later, should enough funding not be available.
“You do lose a lot of cost efficiencies and cost savings if you do that,” said Kozak. “We don’t have available funding right now for any of the options.”
Kozak said the next step will be to develop a detailed cost analysis, along with the funding strategy.
A referendum or other alternative approval process would likely be triggered by the amount the city would need to borrow for the project.
Even before Penticton city council had a chance to endorse the Arena Task Force’s recommendation of a new two-sheet arena, user groups were supporting the concept.
Last week, the task force announced its recommendation of a new, twin-surface, multi-use arena on the west side of the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Minimal repairs would be performed on Memorial Arena and McLaren Arena to keep the buildings operational and safe until the new facility is ready. After that, McLaren would be closed and Memorial converted to a dry surface to support activities like lacrosse, pickleball and soccer.
Chris Danby, president of Penticton Minor Lacrosse, said the recommendation suits their needs, especially the prospect of having a permanent dry floor. With growing demand for ice year-round, they have been experiencing trouble booking enough time to suit their needs.
“This year we were fortunate. The ice came out mid-March, which is the first time I have been involved with minor lacrosse that it has happened this early,” said Danby. “We didn’t have to use the Skaha box at all for our pre-season practising.”
If their teams make it through the playoffs, he said, that causes another problem for practices, since the ice usually goes back in Memorial at the end of June.
“In the past, we have gone down to Oliver or we have used the box at Skaha Park, which isn’t an ideal space,” said Danby.
Andy Oakes, president of the Okanagan Hockey Academy and a member of the Arena Task Force, said the critical point is to have facilities that can meet the needs of as many user groups in the community as possible.
“Over the next 30 to 50 years, that is what the community is going to need,” said Oakes. If the concept goes through as planned, adding the new facility added to the existing ones will create a special scenario for Penticton.
“There is not going to be too many of these types of campuses around the world,” said Oakes. “You are going to have the ability to attract a lot of different national and international events because of the facility space you have.”
With the current setup, Penticton couldn’t host events like the Four Nations Cup or the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships hosted in Kamloops last year — events that draw international television coverage.
“Those are events that we just can’t house here in Penticton just yet. If this was to be endorsed, you would see some of that,” said Oakes.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit cautions that endorsing the recommendation and applying for the federal Gas Tax Strategic Priorities Fund grant is just a first step. It will still be some time — years — before the new arena is built. The recommendation is projected to cost $33.9 million.
“This is the first step and it is really the about the best option to secure some grant funding. The level of grant funding and whether other parties come to the table will help shape how we move forward. That’s the missing step,” said Jakubeit, adding that they would likely find out about the success of a grant proposal in the fall.
“In between now and then they will be fleshing out a bit more of the financial details and impact and hopefully some of the other service clubs or people in the hockey community,” said Jakubeit, suggesting that a community fundraising program would help lighten the load on taxpayers.
“There certainly are a number of hockey alumni that have cut their teeth in one way or another here. Maybe they can come to the table and it can be a model similar to the SOEC where the impact to the taxpayer was minimal relative to other grants or funding sources.”
Jakubeit said that if the City of Penticton fails to get the grant or gets a reduced amount, the scope of the project might have to change.
“Depending on how large the amount we have to borrow and the time period, it might trigger some sort of referendum,” said Jakubeit.
Council met at 6 p.m. on July 24 to discuss the recommendation. Check online at pentictonwesternnews.com for an update.