PEI

Don't make same mistakes with new sports facility, warns Bell Aliant Centre manager

As the City of Charlottetown contemplates a new multi-use sports centre — what lessons are there to be learned from the Bell Aliant Centre?

'We want to make sure we are making the right decisions for the right reasons'

Operation of the Bell Aliant Centre, once known as the CARI complex, was based on a 'flawed business plan' says its current manager. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The Bell Aliant Centre on the UPEI campus has some lessons for those contemplating a new multi-use facility in Charlottetown.    

When the City of Charlottetown signed on as a partner 14 years ago to help fund what was then called the CARI complex, it agreed to pay $89,500 annually toward the centre's operating costs — but those costs were much higher than expected.  

"At the end of the first fiscal year, it was closer to $400,000," said Sue Fraser, general manager at the Bell Aliant Centre. 

Fraser called it a "flawed business plan."

"It was significant, the difference between the reality and what was projected."

The aquatics centre needs $1 million to upgrade to its ventilation, says general manager Sue Fraser. (John Robertson/CBC)

It all worked out in the end, Fraser said, and now partners know what's expected of them. 

"The money was found and agreements adjusted accordingly and we've moved on." 

'That could be private sector, it could be a number of different groups that come to the table with that vested interest.' — Sue Fraser

Now that the city is contemplating a new $80 million multi-use sports centre,  Fraser said the city has learned valuable lessons — including that funding partners are key to cover capital and operating expenses.

"That could be private sector, it could be a number of different groups that come to the table with that vested interest," she said. 

Fraser was in charge of the city's parks and recreation department before she took over the Bell Aliant Centre. 

The three partners in the Bell Aliant Centre are the town of Stratford, the City of Charlottetown and the University of Prince Edward Island. The city is responsible for covering 87 per cent of the operational shortfall. This year the city paid $600,000 in operating costs.

CARI looked at adding extra rinks

The city needed a new pool and rinks at the time CARI was built, Fraser said. 

The City of Charlottetown is responsible for 87% of the Bell Aliant Centre's annual operational shortfall. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Maintenance and repairs will now be the Bell Aliant Centre's biggest expense.

The pool needs a $1 million upgrade to its ventilation, she said.

The centre is also planning new projects — a  new pool-viewing area and a lounge for the rinks.

The Bell Aliant Centre also submitted research about ice pads to the city's task force on a new multi-use sports facility.

The centre said it could add another ice pad for about $4 million — or two more for $12 million.

That's a smaller and cheaper option than the proposed $80 million sports centre, Fraser said, and would help bring in more revenues.

City still considering 

The City of Charlottetown's commissioned report was released by the task force in December.

It made several recommendations on what to do with the city's ice rinks, including the construction of a new multi-use sports facility with two rinks.

 'We want to be on the cutting edge and we want to make sure we are making the right decisions for the right reasons.'— Mitchell Tweel

"When you are building facilities of this magnitude you have to keep in mind that we want to build for the next 50 to 60 years," said Coun. Mitchell Tweel, chair of the city's parks, recreation and leisure activities.

"We want to make sure that we are very inclusive so that all the user groups are somewhat happy as well as the people that go and watch these different sports. We want to be on the cutting edge and we want to make sure we are making the right decisions for the right reasons."

Council has yet to discuss what to do with the task force's recommendation, Tweel said.

"That's a benchmark you know, it wouldn't be prudent if we didn't look at the initial costs of CARI again," Tweel said.

The Bell Aliant Centre told the City it could add another ice pad for about $4 million — or two more for $12 million. (Laura Meader/CBC)

With files from Laura Meader