Sarnia City Council approves staff arena strategy recommendations

Mike Johnson, who represents a Sarnia girls hockey group, spoke to media after Monday's special meeting saw approval of an arena strategy for the city.
Mike Johnson, who represents a Sarnia girls hockey group, spoke to media after Monday's special meeting saw approval of an arena strategy for the city.
Mike Johnson, who represents a Sarnia girls hockey group, spoke to media after Monday’s special meeting saw approval of an arena strategy for the city.

Sarnia City Council has given staff the go-ahead on a series of arena strategy recommendations that promise to ultimately create a new landscape for sports groups in the city.

In what could be described as a staged approach, the first deadline involves finalizing negotiations with Lambton College around the sale of a second ice surface at the RBC Centre. That facility, commonly referred to RBC-2, would, if the negotiations are concluded, would save the city the expense of running the facility and bring at least $2.1 million to city coffers (the appraised value).

Mayor Mike Bradley countered an argument that the four-to-six months required to do a feasibility study on adding ice pads to Clearwater Arena, which would turn that facility into a potential “tournament centre,” would essentially have the City “giving away” RBC-2 before other details necessary to ensure local user groups have ample ice surface time are worked out.

“You [Council] will be able to assess whatever deal is proposed and deal with it when it comes before us for approval,” noted Bradley, who ended up breaking a tie vote to approve each of the recommendations.

A June 30 deadline has now been set for completion of the Lambton College negotiations for RBC-2. Once a deal is made, work on repurposing the RBC-2 facility would begin on April 1, 2015, following the 2014/15 ice season.

While a draft of the arena strategy issued last fall called for the immediate closure of Germain Arena, the new (and approved) recommendation would keep that arena open until 2020, at which point a multi-pad Clearwater Arena complex would be in place.

Beginning next summer, Sarnia Arena will replace off-season ice rentals that were previously accommodated at RBC-2.

Council also approved a recommendation that will lead to establishment of an asset management program for all arenas. Staff will use a report prepared by Ameresco in 2013 as the basis for that program.

Staff were also directed to work with arena user groups and tournament organizers to transition from six ice surfaces to five in order to minimize impacts.

City Council also approved the future development of a sponsorship program that the Parks and Recreation Department would use to promote potential partnerships with Sarnia’s business, industrial and commercial sectors.

Why change at all?

It appears to come down to two major factors, one being that a qualified buyer (Lambton College) exists for RBC-2 at a time when the need for cash is there (Centennial Park remediation being one of them).

The second reason is that doing nothing is not a viable option, since money will have to be spent to keep up an aging Sarnia Arena and a Germain Arena that is too small for any significant tournament play.

Clearly, not all those who were in attendance at Monday’s special meeting were pleased with Council’s decision (a 5-4 recorded vote, with Mayor Bradley breaking the tie).

Councillors Dave Boushy, Jim Foubister, Andy Bruziewicz and Mike Kelch voted for in favour. Councillors Bev MacDougall, Anne Marie Gillis, Jon McEachran and Terry Burrell were opposed.

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