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Councillors need more answers about expanded Sadlon Arena proposal before applying for grant

Councillor Gary Harvey says arena needs expansion to make the facility more competitive

The puck stops with Barrie city council as to whether to submit a grant application through the Ontario Community Building fund in hopes of scoring cash to expand Sadlon Arena.

Councillor Gary Harvey had an item for discussion at Monday’s general committee meeting to submit an application for capital costs, but Councillor Barry Ward’s amendment was approved that requires staff to report back before an application is completed and handed in.

“We don’t know what the costs will be or how much money will be eligible,” said Ward. “I am not saying it’s a good or bad idea because I can’t tell from the information we have.”

“We need more information from staff before we decide as a city as to whether we are going to go ahead with this project.”

Ward said the cost of a larger arena is unknown, and he pointed out they have heard everything from $5 million to $9 million.

“It could be more. We just don’t even know. And I think it’s really important we know the actual cost of this before we go through the trouble of submitting an application.”

Ward said there was also unanswered questions about the operating cost of an expanded arena, the design and how many additional seats will come out of it.

Harvey has proposed a three-storey addition to the north side of the building, which would include:

  • a new grand entrance to the arena with additional multi-purpose/trade show space,
  • ticket booths, concessions, a multi-use sports bar, additional office and retail space, possibly a new home for the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame,
  • additional dressing rooms, player dining and lounge facilities, medical facilities, storage and meeting space, a media lounge and VIP lounge, a new sound system, an upgraded green room along with additional spectator seating.

“This is not about the Barrie Colts. This is about tourism and economic development for the Barrie-area,” Harvey told councillors.

Harvey estimates the cost of the project will be between $7 million and $9 million, but the tally is over a year old and his item of discussion does ask staff to return with an up-to-date tab.

He has said the business plan he has used would mean the project would not cost Barrie taxpayers anything, and if the grant is successful, the other portion of the capital cost could be covered by the new municipal accommodation tax.

Harvey said Barrie has been unable to land large curling events, Skate Canada or the Memorial Cup because the current arena is not up to par with other facilities that are out there.

“It was a great building in 1995 when it opened up. Over the years many other municipalities around the province have created buildings that are much better,” he noted.

Mayor Jeff Lehman pointed out the capital portion of the grant is $50 million which is shared by the entire province including not-for-profits and municipalities.

“A per capita allocation to Barrie of a provincial fund would suggest we would be eligible for about half a million dollars. If we go in with a $10 million ask or an $8 million ask, is it even going to be considered?”

Lehman said there is merit in the improvements to the Sadlon Arena in terms of a modest expansion to the seating and the facilities, which he added are not good enough to host major sporting events.

“The question around this one has been at what point are you really trying to push a difficult angle when it comes to trying to expand a building that is very expensive to expand? And by how much and for what? If we knew we could pack that place with five to 7,000 people for events on a continuous basis, then there is an obvious return on the investment to expand.”

In an email on Friday to Barrie 360, Harvey said one of the lounges would be able to house several hundred spectators in a VIP-style lounge getting spectator capacity close to the 5,000 mark.

“The economic impact from hosting national and international events is astounding. Curling Canada events are $6 million to $10 million,the Memorial Cup $16 million to $18 million, and Skate Canada $45 million,” Harvey added.

Councillor Keenan Aylwin was the only one at the table to vote against a possible arena expansion.

“We have strategic priorities that we have set as a council and I think there are other projects that we are looking at that fit better into those strategic priorities. We’ve just struck a performing arts centre task force and we’ve struck a market precinct task force,” Aylwin said. “I think it’s important we let those groups do their work and come back to council with their recommendations. There may be requests for capital funding or otherwise as part of those groups.”

The action taken at a general committee still requires the rubberstamp at the next city council meeting.