Ottawa facing glut of underused rinks as beer leaguers say no thanks to late night ice

Faced with sinking revenues from municipal rink rentals, coupled with increasing competition from private facilities, the City of Ottawa is taking a close look at whether it should consolidate its old downtown arenas.

Facing $400K deficit on rink rentals, city may consolidate aging downtown arenas

Kids practice hockey at the Tom Brown Arena in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood, one of several facilities facing diminishing demand. (CBC)

Faced with sinking revenues from municipal rink rentals, coupled with increasing competition from private facilities, the City of Ottawa is taking a close look at whether it should consolidate its old downtown arenas.

Halfway through 2016, staff projected the city will earn $400,000 less on ice rentals than it budgeted.

While it may seem counterintuitive that demand for ice time is drying up, city staff say while residents still clamour for weekends and the coveted 6 to 9 p.m. slots on weeknights, off-peak demand is diminishing.

The city used to count on a much larger "prime time" window, when late afternoon and late night bookings were also in demand.

Staff consulted adult hockey leagues last week, and were told they find the slots after 9 p.m. too late, said Dan Chénier, general manager of the city's parks and recreation department.

"What that means is we have a lot of idle capacity," Chénier said.

So the city is offering beer leaguers discounted rates, and looking for new ways to aggressively market rink surfaces during the summer for different sports such as indoor tennis and roller derby.

Modernizing the skating experience

The city also faces a changing market, where skaters have come to expect the experience of the modern, privately owned arenas with four rinks and updated change rooms.

The aging, single-pad arenas downtown often don't serve tournaments well, Chénier said.

"You know, whether you're talking McNabb, Tom Brown, Brewer, Sandy Hill, all those arenas are past their prime and need something to address the market forces we're seeing today."

As a result, the city may consider consolidating less-efficient rinks, assembling parcels of land to build multi-pad rinks facilities, said Chénier.

Private gyms, big competition

City arenas aren't the only facilities currently under review: Barrhaven councillor Jan Harder questioned the demand for other city fitness facilities and programs. She's noticed how the fitness room in the two-year-old Minto Recreation Complex in her area isn't as busy as it should be.

"With the glut of Movati and GoodLife ... is that something that still makes business sense for us to have, and take up the space that it does?" asked Harder.

Those rooms could instead be used for training for youth hockey teams, she suggested.

The parks and recreation department is also working with a larger review of city parks and facilities to make sure they're run cost-effectively. 

"There was a time your local community complex and the YMCA were the only game in town," said Chénier. "Now we have a lot of private operators offering, again, high-end, high-quality services, and the city needs to find its niche in there to provide the services the public expects out of a community facility."

The city could offer a more narrow range of classes, for instance, or branch out to create an indoor skateboard park.

That review should form part of the upcoming 2017 budget decisions.