Getting solid numbers makes sense


Eddie Bush arenaI recently was directed to read a statement that I had “…put forward a notice of motion calling on the municipality to spend the money to put a concrete floor in the building, without any kind of business case …”

That is incorrect. The notice simply asked the town to put out a ‘request for proposal” (RFP).

If the writer had asked me about my notice of motion (or asked any of the other councillors or senior staff with whom I discussed it), I would have been able to explain that I was simply asking for the town to get a price for the work. The notice and the subsequent motion presented in the agenda did not mention spending any money for the project: just to get a price.

Deciding whether the work will go ahead is another discussion. But recent councils have danced around the issue of the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena for several years, mostly without any firm price quotes for the work on which to base any decision or do any future planning.

The Eddie Bush arena once had a concrete floor, and years ago it hosted warm weather events – even a circus – but that ended when the concrete was removed and replaced with sand. We, as council, have stated we want to make the arena more accommodating and flexible for such uses again. No, the town won’t be operating these events – we act merely as service-and-space providers (for a fee, of course).

Yes, we’ve had some estimates for work done in the arena, but these come from engineers over the past few years, not from contractors. We also received an unsolicited quote late in 2013 that contradicts higher estimates with a lower price. We need the contractors – those few who can actually do such work – to give us something reliable and competitive.

An RFP is the easiest way to get those costs; a simple solution.

I wanted a price in order for council and staff to be able to determine whether the work was affordable now or whether it needed to be put into a long-term plan. Do we have the money in reserves, or must the project be debentured? We have been discussing possible arena renovations and financial considerations without having the cost on which to base any decision.

One cannot build a “business case” without some cost estimates on which to base such a case*. And had I been asked, I could have pointed the author to the BIA which is undertaking its own study on the arena’s impact on the downtown business. A draft version was prepared and presented to the BIA board several months ago (under the Downtown Revitalization project) and is currently being updated and finalized. It was raised by the BIA in a recent presentation to council.

I might also have pointed out that council had, at several open meetings, confirmed the town’s commitment to the downtown arena and emphasized that we recognized its importance to the overall well-being of the community and especially the downtown. We identified it in our strategic planning session, in December.

I could have mentioned the anecdotal evidence from BIA members that was presented at open board meetings – especially from those in the food service industry – that traffic downtown has fallen off dramatically in the past months because many tournaments and events have been scheduled for the new arena, not the downtown one. It’s a concern the BIA has raised several times in meetings with councillors and staff, and in letters to council over the past year.

One estimate suggests traffic has fallen as many as 1,000 people per week during tournament events. One can dither about, arguing the validity of the numbers, but whether it’s 100 or 1,000, it’s clear that many BIA merchants feel the effect and feel it is significant (in at least one case to reduce staff as a result of declining business during some hours).

And I might have been able to reveal BIA and council discussions that have taken place in meetings these past three years about “re-purposing” our downtown arena for additional, productive uses in the non-hockey-season time – like indoor sports (soccer and lacrosse for example), conferences and conventions, trade shows, entertainment and theatrical events. But all of these depend on putting a concrete floor back in the arena, and removing the ice from approximately April to October.

So it made sense to me to get a price in order to move these discussions forward.

We need to balance the uses of both arenas to make the most efficient and effective use of both. The Central Park arena will have ice year-round and be in constant use (we made that decision based on staff recommendations). In the spring through fall period, the EBMA will not have ice. That becomes a liability because, with just sand, the refrigeration pipes can shift under pressure, so it can’t be used for events unless it has concrete.

We need to encourage and facilitate other uses of the downtown arena in order to keep it active and bring people downtown all year round. Getting a concrete floor (and new pipes) will allow us to do that.

But we can’t proceed, can’t even hold a debate, without numbers. That’s all I was asking for**. There was no mention of spending the money in the notice of motion; no demand that the town proceed with any work.

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* Why would we need to build a “business case” – is that a business plan? – around what is a simple operational issue? We don’t need to add more layers of bureaucracy, consume staff time writing reports and spend tax dollars on consultants for every decision. We already have an engineer’s report (asked for by staff for what proved an unsuccessful grant application) that explained why and how a concrete floor was a recommended upgrade. We’ve collectively committed to the use of the arena.

** My original motion was recently and substantially enhanced by the CAO and clerk for presentation at March 24′s council meeting to read:

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council herein authorize the CAO to immediately retain the necessary professional services to undertake an assessment review of the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena;

AND FURTHER THAT Council request that the assessment include a phased in approach to the renovation of the Arena based on critical components, affordability and future compatibility with the priority of the initial phase to include the installation of a concrete floor;

AND FURTHER THAT Council authorize an upset limit of $500,000 in the 2014 Capital budget for the project, and additional urgent elements identified above the approved amount will require Council’s further consideration.