Saint John investors consider private rink plan

A group of Saint John businesspeople is exploring the possibility of building another ice surface or expanding an existing facility in the city.

Proposal could see a new or expanded ice surface without city funding

A group of Saint John businesspeople is exploring the possibility of building another ice surface or expanding an existing facility in the city.

Mike Simon, a Saint John doctor, has been active in minor sports for decades and he said the city needs another ice surface.

But Saint John is facing serious financial pressures, including a massive pension deficit and budget cuts.

With the city’s current financial problems, there is little chance the municipality will build a new rink on its own to meet the demands for a new ice surface.

Simon is representing some potential investors who have been given permission to meet with city officials to see if there is an arena that would support a second or a much larger ice surface.

The group will also examine the books, operating costs, budget shortfalls, hours of operation etc. for the Charles Gorman and Lord Beaverbrook arenas.

"We're talking about any model that we can produce that will not cost the city a large amount of money — or any money, if possible," Simon said.

"That we can have some private people step into this plan. And together there's some workable business model that can aid everybody." 

Adding another ice surface in Saint John would benefit a wide array of citizens.

"More ice time for the kids to play. More ice time for the gentlemen's leagues to play," Simon said.

Saint John has four civic arenas, including the Gorman facility.

As well, the city has the Lord Beaverbrook Rink, which was built by Lord Beaverbrook and donated to Saint John in 1960. Saint John is responsible for paying for the facility's operating costs.

Rink plan interest

There has been interest in upgrading the city’s ice surfaces.

Saint John council recently commissioned a report to look into whether upgrading the 50-year-old Lord Beaverbrook Rink to Olympic size and standards would be feasible.

The renovations would cost at least $3.4-million, according to the report.

The existing rink surface measures 190 feet long by 85 feet wide. An Olympic expansion would increase the size to 200 feet long by 98.5 feet wide.

But city staff had recommended council put the project on the backburner considering the city's fiscal restraints.

So the idea of bringing in private investors to help address the demand for a larger ice surface is being welcomed by city politicians.

Coun. Susan Fullerton, who represents Ward 2 where both of the arenas being examined are located, said she has no trouble with public-private partnerships.

"Saint John is open for business. We're open for ideas, we're open for entrepreneurs," Fullerton said.

Any public partnership will have to be approved by Saint John council.

But Fullerton said she will give her consent if the final proposal is good for the city.