Clear yes to Moose Jaw multiplex

For the second time in three years, voters in Moose Jaw have endorsed a plan to build a new arena complex in the Saskatchewan city.

Unofficial results show 60% of voters favour arena plan

For the second time in three years, voters in Moose Jaw have endorsed a plan to build a new arena complex in the Saskatchewan city.

Within an hour of polls closing, unofficial results of a referendum showed 60 per cent of voters in favour of spending $34.5 million from city coffers on a new hockey arena and curling venue plus a covered soccer facility.

Another $26.7 million needed for the facility would be raised from other levels of government and the private sector.

The referendum results, made available by city officials Wednesday night, will be verified and presented to Moose Jaw's city council on Friday.

As of 9:10 p.m. CT, with 11 of 11 polling stations having reported, the tally had 7,626 voting yes on the question and 5,099 saying no. The ballot sought a yes or no answer to the statement: "That the City of Moose Jaw reaffirm its financial commitment of $34,530,560 toward the construction of a hockey arena, curling and indoor soccer facilities."

A group of about 30 people were at Moose Jaw's city council chambers Wednesday night to watch the results come in. A local radio station broadcast a live news special throughout the evening.

When the final numbers were posted, a restrained cheer went out from referendum supporters along with a smattering of applause.

This is Moose Jaw voters' second trip to the polls to answer a multiplex question. The new vote was held after a furor arose over ballooning cost estimates and the issue was taken to court by upset citizens. The legal cases, however, were decided in favour of the city.

Wednesday's result was viewed by some as a final chapter in the debate.

"The courts have spoken. The people have spoken. It's time to move forward," Moose Jaw Mayor Dale McBain said after the vote.

Construction could start in May

With the endorsement, council's plan can proceed to the next stages.

Officials said that, upon approval, they could seek bids on construction and award the job in April, with work to begin in May.

The goal is to replace the city's Civic Centre, built in 1959, which has been criticized as too small and not up to standards for the local Western Hockey League franchise, the Moose Jaw Warriors.

The first referendum, in 2006, won approval from 71 per cent of voters for a $36.3 million project.

Shortly after that, however, plans were unveiled for a more ambitious — and more expensive — facility, setting the stage for Wednesday's referendum.

The city has proposed to increase property taxes to handle the extra costs it is expecting to pay. It has estimated the impact on taxes to be an immediate jump of 9.72 per cent for each property owner, and noted that the additional levy would be on the tax bill for 25 years.

People on the "no" side of the vote said they are not happy with the financial implications of the project.

"There's no other option now but to sit back, have a drink, throw your wallet on the table and let the city have at her," Rick Walker told CBC News on Wednesday night, referring to the costs facing taxpayers.

In the previous referendum, 7,051 votes were cast in favour of the 2005 plan. There were 2,822 votes against.