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by Rene Lalonde

The issue of arena closures will be one of the first major issues that Regina’s new city council will have to tackle. Council will be forced to evaluate the issue closely in the new year, as six new multi-use arenas are opened at Evraz Place. Four of the six facilities are expected to be ready for the start of the World Junior Hockey Championships in December.

Because of a shortage in ice time, many hockey teams have been forced to travel up to 100 km outside the city for available ice for practices and games. The city is hoping the new ice surfaces will fill that need. With the six new ice surfaces and the closure of the old Exhibition Stadium, the total number of indoor arenas in Regina will increase from 12 to 17. But questions are being raised as to whether that big an increase in facilities is feasible.

Photo: Work being done at one of Regina's six new arenas.

A report prepared for the City of Regina by Vancouver-based Professional Environmental Recreation Consultants Ltd in 2008 considered the possibility of the city closing up to four city arenas. The report, Regina Recreational Facility Strategy 2020, is a proposed 10-year plan that would phase out up to four city-owned arenas, depending on demand, with the Optimist and the Kinsmen rinks topping the list.

“There is more than enough demand for ice time in Regina to warrant keeping all eight city arenas open, even with the addition of six new arenas at Evraz Place,” says Tim Anderson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 21.

Ward 8 councillor Mike O'Donnell said that there has not been any discussion at the city council level about rink closure.

“If the demand is there, we’d have to seriously look at keeping them all open. If there is no demand and we have rinks sitting vacant, we’d have to consider closure … really, the ball sits in the public’s court.”

Building of the Co-operators Centre, the name for the new ice arenas, was part of major upgrades to Evraz Place. The overall price tag for the upgrades, which also included renovations to the Brandt Centre, is expected to be in the $60-70 million range. Funding is being split by the three levels of government.

The Co-operators Centre provides more convention space for the Canadian Western Agribition, the Royal Red, Buffalo Days, and the Western Canada Farm Progress Show. The ultimate goal of the new facilities is to attract other major national and international events. But outgoing councillor Jerry Flegel said it was also necessary to keep some of the current events in Regina.

“Royal Red was a big reason we pushed for this upgrade … if the facilities weren’t fixed up, they were out of here and that’s a $15-20 million hit in economic activity to the city.”

Anderson wonders whether the rinks will be consistently busy during the hockey season.

“We're not sure they're going to be able to provide ice-time during winter months if they're trying to attract those large events.”

Currently, arenas in Regina are classified in three groups. The first being the Sherwood Twin Arenas, which is privately owned by Canlan Ice Sports Corp. The second group is eight single sheet arenas owned and operated by the City of Regina. Lastly, Evraz Place controls the Brandt Centre – where the Pats are the only regular tenant – and the six soon to be opened multi-use arenas.

 Anderson questions the availability of the Co-operators Centre. “Once we close the city-run arenas, then we're more dependent on Evraz Place.”

A decision on rink closures will not occur until the end of the 2009-10 hockey season. Flegel said that an alternative to closing rinks would be to allow interested user groups to acquire some of the older arenas.

“They would run them and be responsible for them … right now they’re all in ok shape.”

With a subject that affects so many people at a local level, this issue may make it a rougher tenure for this city council.