Council hears three arena proposals

By Councillor Wayne Rothe

Spruce Grove city council spent almost four hours Jan. 14 discussing a proposed new arena on the Westwind lands adjacent to Highway 16.

Council will consider three options: 1. a basic complex with two 500-seat rinks (roughly $37-$41 million), 2. a 2,500-seat arena with a 250-seat community rink (roughly $50-$54 million), and 3. a 3,500-seat event centre with a 250-seat community rink (roughly $61.5-$64 million).

I’ll focus here on option 3 – the full-on event centre that supposedly would attract concerts, large sports events, monster truck shows, etc.

The event centre would be fun and sexy but I urge everyone to wait for full information before deciding. Taxpayers will, of course, be on the hook for all unfunded costs, which will be substantial. In 2017 with the assistance of a friend who is a municipal CFO (not ours) I calculated the tax increase for the former SEC (sport and event centre) at 7.79%. Would you support a 7% tax increase to pay for an event centre?

Some points from my remarks Monday:

  • Spruce Grove and the region are in dire need of ice. No issue there.
  • Our decision needs to be based on community need, not speculative, nebulous financial assumptions.
  • I and other councillors thought our consultants’ written report was heavily biased toward the event centre, although their presentation to council was balanced.
  • The financials include $9 million in government grants and partnership funding. We may get some provincial or federal funding and small amounts from Parkland County and Stony Plain, but Parkland is already reducing financial contributions to other municipalities. (A new arena would also serve these communities.)
  • The financials include MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) funding of $23.5 million. While that makes this look more affordable it would hamper our ability to pay for other projects. MSI money used for an arena is money not available for road construction, for example, so we’d be transferring debt from one project to another.
  • The event centre’s financials include bringing events over from other venues in the community. If the Spruce Grove Saints moved from the Grant Fuhr Arena it will make a new arena’s financials look better but it takes away the Fuhr’s major tenant. The TLC, Elks Hall, Border Paving Athletic Centre, Horizon Stage and Stony Plain’s Heritage Pavilion would all lose revenue.
  • The rationale for an event centre assumes events such as concerts and major sporting events. We’ll never be a serious competitor for the big boys like the River Cree event centre (concerts) and the Saville Centre at the University of Alberta (sports events). The Saville has 14 full-size FIBA basketball courts and other facilities. High-school tourneys won’t pay the bills.
  • The consultants said that the event centre has the lowest risk of the three options. I contend that an event centre is high risk. My financial analysis on the previous event centre (the one that suggested a 7.79% tax increase) included events that seem highly unlikely.
  • If we have a by-election to replace Councillor Searle Turton who is running provincially then that could present an opportunity for a plebiscite on this issue.

We need to wait for full information (including the impact on our tax bill) before making up our minds. The City will conduct a rigorous community-engagement program. A council decision isn’t expected until June.

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