When it comes to the future of Penticton’s Memorial Arena, there are no easy answers.
Memorial, built in 1951, is aging and in need of serious repairs if it is to continue operating. With those repairs estimated at $13 million, it forms a significant chunk of the estimated $175-million deficit the city is facing for repairs and replacement of aging infrastructure.
What isn’t in question is that something has to be done: repair, replace or remove are the basic options, and it is likely to be a divisive issue.
Repairing the 65-year-old arena is the emotional choice as Memorial forms a big part of Penticton’s history and identity. This was the Penticton Vees’ first arena, and where they brought the World Cup home after defeating the Soviets in the 1955 World Championship.
Then there is the building itself. There are few, if any, arenas like Memorial, with grand arches supporting a high roof, giving a beautiful, unobstructed view from one end of the ice sheet to the other.
But the days when thousands of fans filled the 2,000-plus seats in Memorial to cheer on the Vees are long gone. Replacing Memorial might cost as much as $18 million, but the lifecycle cost of a new facility could be up to $5 million less than Memorial. A replacement building would likely be less expensive to operate overall, with modern systems installed from the ground up.
So, not an easy decision: enjoy the heritage of Memorial Arena a while longer, or accept that time is moving on and build a new facility for the next half-century?
We don’t have an easy answer. But what does need to happen is a community conversation — hopefully one that doesn’t break down into armed camps — about the role of the arena, the importance of heritage, and whether the community is willing to pay the price to preserve that heritage.