Ian (Tex) MacDonald
The Greek city of Delphi on the steep southern slopes of Mount Parnassus was one of the most important sites in the ancient world, not because it was home to a powerful ruler but because of a famously accurate Oracle there whom few world leaders would dare to ignore.
We do not have the luxury of an oracle here in Charlottetown to direct our leaders where we should locate a new rink, or for that matter, should we build one at all? Oracles have been replaced by engineering firms, by the ever-cumbersome committee process and, naturally, by a multitude of resident experts.
We do, in fact, have a rink committee composed of a number of local enthusiasts whose assignment was to explore all aspects for a new rink, some people on this "board" have hardly set foot in the Eastlink Centre, let alone able to offer advice on the potential project. But fear not: the city has hired a firm, although not from here, but a professional firm whose mandate, for $100,000, will give some direction on finances, urban impact, location and assimilation with existing facilities.
Should the building that will host sporting events, cultural events — and could even be utilized for a naumachia — be called a coliseum, an arena, or a civic centre embossed with a major sponsor? We'll leave that issue in the hands of the experts, maybe even to city council. This building, which will be designated for "public action" could possibly be constructed on the site soon to be left vacant by the old government garage. The provincial government has moved its operation (public works department) from this site to the periphery of the city because there wasn’t enough room. Is there enough room on the site for a 5,000-seat edifice housing two sheets of ice and all the amenities associated with it? Maybe we do need an oracle.
According to the construction people, the cost of this building could be between $80 - $100 million. City council has floated a figure of between $50-60 million. Regardless of the numbers, this is going to be an expensive rink. What we don’t want are volunteers scraping ice between periods and rink employees pulling barrels of water to flood the surface. Gone are the days of the luddites ad here for our use are forensic audits which could be done on the rink in Summerside to assist the venture in Charlottetown.
There seems to be a fairly strong undercurrent in the city to build a new rink. What about the possibility of a renovation? There is room for expansion towards the Beach Street side. Purchase some properties and introduce a new concept in arena building called “innovation”. We don’t have to resurrect the Marshall Plan, but we do have to explore all options.
I am well aware that the Canada Winter Games will be here in three years. The provincial government, in conjunction with the federal government, will undoubtedly satisfy the funding formula for facilities, we will require an upgrade to existing venues across the Island with the bulk of the funds directed towards the construction of a new civic centre.
One would not have to consult an oracle on the issue of location. Metropolitan Charlottetown has a population of roughly 55,000 people, this represents approximately 41 per cent of P.E.I.’s population and unless you have been living on a houseboat there is unlimited access to the greater Charlottetown area via the most paved roads in Canada — and more roundabouts than Piccadilly circus.
The construction of this new rink will take a gargantuan effort not only by the various levels of government but primarily by city council. This will be the biggest project since the Confederation Bridge and a unified council is paramount to the successful completion of this building. Mayor Philip Brown must exercise his leadership and word to the wise for Philip: “When hunting big game, do not be distracted by rabbit tracks.”
This is the first of three articles from former Charlottetown mayor Ian (Tex) MacDonald on the topic of arenas.