Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Loss of the Archie Browning Arena

Esquimalt Council has voted to close the Archie Browning Arena in April 2008. This will be a major blow for ice sports recreation in the region. As it stands the Capital Regional District has fewer ice sheets per population than almost anywhere else in Canada. As is stands we have the following:

  • Panorama - 2 ice sheets
  • Pearkes - 2 ice sheets
  • Bear Mountain - 2 ice sheets
  • Archie Browning
  • Naden
  • Save of Foods
  • Oak Bay
  • Raquetclub/UVic
  • Sooke
This is a total of 12 ice sheets for 310 000 people. Even that is not so bad, but when one looks at the core region - Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt - the number falls to 5, though one is not really available for public use (Save on Foods) and therefore we really have 4 ice sheets for 210 000 people. With the closure of Archie Browning, this falls to three.

Esquimalt is concerned about the costs of the arena complex - they are losing $700 000 a year and will have to shell out several million for a new roof shortly. I can understand there desire to improve their financial situation. To this end I would propose the following different options.

1) A core municipalities winter recreation coop. Have the four core municipal governments and UVic share all the costs and facilities. They would start with 4 ice sheets and need to replace one of them very soon (Archie Browning). The plan should be to grow this to 10 ice sheets over a moderate period of time. As it stands, the ice in Esquimalt and Oak Bay is heavily used by people from Victoria - really not a fair situation on the small municipalities. I would see the split be something like Saanich 1/3, Victoria 1/3, Oak Bay 1/9, Esquimalt 1/9 and UVic 1/9

2) A P3 to build and operate an arena complex in Esquimalt. First off, this should not be something like the Save on Foods deal, there are major management problems with the conflict of recreation versus concerts. I would see this facility having the following:
  • A rink with seating for 1000 to 2000 and options to allow it to be used for concert like events
  • A rink with very limited seating
  • A rink that would normally be split into two smaller rinks but could be used as a single larger one
  • An ice surface that would normally be for six curling sheets but could be converted to an international hockey surface
Why would anyone want to build and operate this? One would have to make the deal interesting enough to make a company bite.

With this many ice sheets, the daily traffic through the space would make it attractive to have several restaurants such as a better quality sports bar, a few fast food outlets, a Tim Hortons and a Starbucks. Most municipal arenas only have badly operated concession stands that barely make money. As a hockey dad, I know how much I could be spending there and that I do not. When a game or practice is around dinner time, I would likely buy a meal for myself and my son, but given the quality as it stands, I do not it. Early mornings I would spend a good chunk on good coffee.

The high use times are from 3:30 pm to 9:30pm weekdays and 7:30 am to 9:30 pm weekends. This is 58 high use hours a week. Lower use hours are 6am to 7:30 am and 9:30pm to 11:30pm on all days 24.5 hours a week. This is 72.5 hours a week. With different ice sheets available, different pricing could be in place for their use. With the facility I suggest, this would work out to about 250 hours a week. At an average of $120 per hour, this is a gross income of $27 500 for ice arena time - the curling should bring in another $15 000 a week.

Over a 30 week season, this brings in a gross income of about $1 275 000. I would think a private operator would look to getting another 20 weeks of use a year, but at lower incomes. If one assumes it drops off to 1/3 of the main season, this is $15 000 a week and a gross of another $300 000. Total income from the ice of about $1 575 000 a year.

With more ice sheets, the traffic would be enough to make it interesting to let space for retailers - first and foremost sports retailers. Many parents of kids in minor sports would be interested in being able to use their time to do other tasks while their children are practices - a place for a Curves or such.

If the developer is allowed to build more retail around the outside, is allowed to charge for parking, is allowed to build office or condo space above the space, or something else as part of the space.

Changing the scale of the operation at the site would bring in cost savings. Three sheets of ice have operating costs not much more than a single sheet.

A complex properly built in 2007 would be able to operate at a much lower cost than the existing facility. There have been advances in heating and cooling technology and building design and construction that would dramatically reduce the costs.

Shifting from staffing that is municipal recreation staff to private facility operation staff will also reduce costs through a different mind set in the staff.

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