Saint John set to make final decision on fate of local arenas

One of Saint John’s arenas most likely candidates for closure
WATCH: A public meeting in Saint John could determine the fate of one of the city’s arenas. The closure could save the city more than 150k annually, plus it would allow for the sale and redevelopment of land. Tim Roszell has more.

A public meeting in Saint John this week could help determine if the final buzzer will sound at one of the city’s arenas.

The meeting comes as Saint John remains at odds with other communities over sharing costs to run those same facilities.

A report to Saint John Common Council in December seemed to highlight the Charles Gorman Arena in the north end and the Hilton Belyea Arena on the lower west side as the most likely candidates for closure, although two others — the west side’s Peter Murray Arena and the Stewart Hurley Arena out east — are also under consideration.

READ MORE: On thin ice: Saint John council ponders closing arena as cost-cutting measure

It’s a move that could save the city $155,000 annually, and would also allow for the sale and redevelopment of the land.

The meeting is Thursday at the Mary Oland Theatre at the New Brunswick Museum in Market Square. It is expected to cover other sustainability projects, as well.

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“For our population, we probably can close a rink and get away with it, no problem,” said Saint John Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary.

“But the thing is that Saint John is so spread out that everybody would like to have a rink in their own area.

READ MORE: Saint John council makes 1st comments on 2020 ‘transitional’ budget

“That’s the problem.”

Chris Green, a member of the board of directors for Hockey New Brunswick, believes while it may be necessary to close a rink, it still may not be the right move.

“Last weekend, we had two simultaneous tournaments going on in the city and we actually had to turn away, I think, it was eight teams because our hotels were at capacity,” Green said.

“Any reduction in those ice surfaces is going to reduce those types of events.”

The City of Saint John has yet to agree with outlying communities on a cost-sharing model for Saint John arenas, an agreement which could make an arena closure unnecessary. But McAlary said with the city attempting to fix its finances, it cannot wait any longer for a regional solution.

READ MORE: Recreation programs still on Saint John council chopping block

“[The communities] have meetings after meetings on getting along together and working together, but then everybody has to have their own way,” she said.

Green, who said he will be attending the meeting, wants to ensure any decision is made using relevant information.

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He said this year’s data is skewed because some youth hockey players did not register this year following the city’s threatened user card system. The system would have charged non-Saint John residents a user fee of $200 plus HST to play in city arenas.

The city pulled back on the plan after the Saint John Hotel Association agreed to cover costs for this season.

“It’s no secret you can drive around [Saint John] and on any given day arenas are empty, when arenas in surrounding areas are full,” Green said. “So I think we need to push reset on the data from this year and go to previous years and move forward with that.
“I think this region needs to [head] toward a facility replacement strategy, not just an arena closure plan.”

McAlary said she would support privatizing ownership or operation of the arenas if it made sense for the city.