BEYOND THE HEADLINES Losing sight of the site

Richard Rolke provides some thoughts on the Greater Vernon arena debate

Location, location, location.

That’s the issue largely being side-stepped during the debate over Civic Arena and whether to go to referendum on a new ice sheet in Greater Vernon.

Yes, twinning Priest Valley Arena or Kal Tire Place has been mentioned, but they both come with significant hurdles to overcome.

Specifically, with Priest Valley Arena, there is no room. Either all parking and the outdoor rink would have to be wiped out or a good chunk of Becker Park would have to be blasted out to make room. But even if that was done, conditions would be cramped.

The most viable alternative is Kal Tire Place, as it was constructed in 2001 to eventually have a second sheet of ice added to the refrigeration plant. Two ice surfaces side-by-side would create numerous operating efficiencies and make the complex more attractive for large-scale events.

And, unlike PV Arena, there is lots of land sitting right next door.

However, the property is in limbo as the Regional District of North Okanagan, the City of Vernon and the Okanagan Equestrian Society have been wrangling over what can happen  at Kin Race Track since the society was evicted in 2010.

The society claims equestrian activities were guaranteed when most of the track was turned over to the city in 1964 for free. The society also alleges the regional district ignored an agreement for lease renewals.

The entire legal process was suspended in early 2013, but you can guarantee things will flare up as soon as bulldozers start breaking ground for a new arena.

The equestrian society isn’t going to back off its case and that means Kin Race Track will remain for horses running laps until a judge’s ruling occurs. And given how quick the justice system moves, nothing will be resolved before a possible borrowing referendum this November.

So with PV Arena out of the question and Kal Tire Place stalled, what other options are out there for Greater Vernon?

One possibility that’s been suggested is refurbishing Civic Arena.

According to a consultant, about $1.5 million would be needed to replace the slab floor and $100,000 on safety upgrades. On top of this, there could be short-term works of $5.6 million within two to five years.

This concept is somewhat attractive as Civic has generated a lot of memories since 1938, and carries a lot of old school charm.

However, does it make sense to potentially pump $7.2 million into Civic when the structure pre-dates the Second World War and it’s difficult to know what other infrastructure issues may arise? Taxpayers could ultimately be throwing good money after bad, whereas the cost of a new arena could range from $5 to $14 million, depending on which expert you speak to.

It should also be pointed out that the City of Vernon’s long-term plans call for Civic Arena to disappear so the site can be transformed into a park.

The prospect of greenspace has been a key part of the city’s justification for relocating the tourism information centre to 39th Avenue despite opposition from numerous residents.

In the end, Greater Vernon may need a new ice sheet but prior to moving towards a referendum, the first order of business should be finding the right spot.