British Columbia

$30M needed to build new home for Prince George Spruce Kings, but will taxpayers be willing to foot the bill?

City leaders are already facing backlash for spending on a new pool, fire hall and other civic buildings.

City already facing backlash for spending on new pool, firehall and other civic buildings

Fans packed into the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena cheer on the Prince George Spruce Kings during their 2018/19 B.C. Hockey League playoff run. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

British Columbia's top Junior A hockey team may need a new home, but with Prince George taxpayers already footing the bill for a new swimming pool and firehall, it's unclear how much enthusiasm they'll have for another spending project.

The Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (formerly the Coliseum) has long been home ice for the Prince George Spruce Kings. The team finished finished first in the 2018/19 B.C. Hockey League and second in this year's national RBC Cup.

But at 61 years old, the arena needs $11 million in repairs, including a new roof, floor and heating and cooling systems. 

"It's fairly archaic," Dave Dyer, the city's manager of engineering and public works, told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

Prince George is getting a new swimming pool and fire hall. Could the next big taxpayer expense be a new hockey arena? Daybreak host Carolina de Ryk speaks with Dave Dyer, the city's manager of engineering and public works about why. 9:15

Dyer said long-term, the costs of repairing and maintaining the arena — which needs a new floor, roof and heating and cooling system — could exceed the price of simply building a new one.

Dyer said the cost of a new arena will be at least $29.5 million and likely even higher.

Built in 1958, the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena is one of the oldest city-owned buildings in Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Spending fatigue

Should the city pursue a new arena, it would be the latest in a series of investments replacing aging infrastructure in the downtown core.

In 2017, taxpayers approved a $50 million plan to build a new downtown pool and firehall using money borrowed from the Municipal Finance Authority.

That decision came under increased scrutiny this year when it was revealed another $32 million was needed for other infrastructure repairs, which is also coming from the Municipal Finance Authority.

Resident Phil Beaulieu helped organize a grassroots group called "Enough Already City of PG!" which targets what members view as irresponsible spending.

"There is a lot of frustration in the community," Beaulieu told CBC in January. 

Phil Beaulieu is trying to raise support against the city's plans to borrow money and says he wants to see more accountability about where taxpayers' dollars are going. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC )

Members of the group's public Facebook page expressed that frustration after Dyer's CBC interview aired on Tuesday.

"The constant barrage of spending needs appears so disjointed," wrote Jeremy Campbell. "Is it ever going to stop?" wrote Rosie Nich.

Dyer acknowledged those concerns during his interview.

"We're not bringing great news," he said. "Every time we come, we're talking about dollars and aging infrastructure." 

He also pointed to the lack of population growth in the city as a challenge, as it means the tax base hasn't significantly increased over the past two decades.

Rich hockey history

Elsewhere, local hockey fans said they'd be sad to see the arena go.

Opened in 1958, it still maintains much of its original design. Former BCHL linesman Tim Renneberg wrote: "Most fun I ever had... was Saturday night in that barn when it was packed to the rafters."

"There's something really special about watching a game in there with 2,000 other screaming fans that just isn't found in the newer arenas," replied James Doyle, a local photographer whose photos documents the Spruce Kings' most recent season. 

Dyer said with roughly 350,000 visitors a year, the arena is one of the more popular city facilities.

No decision yet

The future of the arena, along with other infrastructure projects identified by city staff, has been forwarded to the city's finance and audit committee for consideration.

Dyer said that committee has tough decisions ahead, as many other investments in civic infrastructure are needed.

"We're going to be needing about $4.6 million a year in addition to what we already have approved," he said. 

"So it's a tall challenge for the group to look into."

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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