Bridgewater arena taken off thin ice

Council puts possible closure on back burner

Keeping the Bridgewater Memorial Arena (BMA) open remains a contested issue for the Bridgewater Town Council.

On the evening of February 23, council decided a motion to close the rink would be tabled for up to two months after receiving a recommendation and report on the facility from Sandy Mair-Dodman, acting director of parks recreation.

“If we are going to close we need to give our current Bridgewater arenas users the adequate time to find an alternative facility. Not all of our users are our ice users. They use the auditorium, kitchen and office spaces as well” said Ms Mair-Dodman.

On behalf of the parks, recreation and culture advisory committee she recommended the arena be kept open for an additional 24 months to provide an opportunity for staff to continue to study the facility’s usage and look for potential growth.

Last April, council voted to keep the arena open for one year. The allotted time was for the facility’s usage to be measured, monitored, and assessed to see if having two ice surfaces in Bridgewater was justified. If so, the arena should also be kept open until a second ice surface at the new Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre (LCLC) is constructed.

On February 23, Ms Mair-Dodman presented a report that estimated how the revenues of the Bridgewater arena and the Lunenburg, Chester and Emera rinks were impacted when the LCLC opened.

“Basically, the data shows the Bridgewater arena was affected the most. Our revenue’s dropped by probably about 50 per cent,” said Ms Mair-Dodman.

Revenues in Lunenburg and Chester’s decreased as well, by 20 and 14 per cent, but revenue from the Queens Emera Centre remained consistent and actually improved.

Meanwhile, the report noted the BMA requires an electrical upgrade worth about $35,000.

Rinks are collectively operating at 50 per cent capacity and close to 76 per cent capacity during prime ice time.

“If the Bridgewater arena were to close, schedulers would have to find an average of 49 hours of ice time per week in other rinks, 39 of which are prime-time hours,” said Ms Mair. Dodman.

During the month of January, 33 hours of prime ice time were available in the other four rinks combined.

“It’s not so easy to move our prime time to Lunenburg, Chester or Liverpool to get that 33 hours of ice. A lot of those hours are not your most favourable prime times,” said Ms Mair-Dodman.

Ms Mair-Dodman said keeping the BMA open for a little longer would allow the LCLC to reach its growth potential with respect to hockey tournaments, concerts and special events.

“Right now I think they’re still at their infancy stage where they’re starting to add events, but I don’t think it’s reached that potential yet, and if they do start using their facility for special events then hockey players and figure skaters will need somewhere else to go on those days.”

Ms Mair-Dodman also recommended that council ask the LCLC board if it intends to have a second surface someday.

“My fear is that – and it’s public knowledge – that the LCLC is probably going to have a deficit of about three quarters of a million dollars this year split between two municipalities,” said Councillor Andrew Tanner.

“I just don’t think the public has the appetite to … even consider a second ice surface.”

Kevin Smith, the town manager, pointed out that the LCLC’s current projected deficit would have been minimized by having that second ice surface.

“We thought we were cutting off our finger; I think we cut off our whole arm,” said Mayor David Walker of the fact that a second ice surface was eliminated from the original LCLC plans.

“I think we made a mistake.”

The projected deficit for the old rink this year is north of $180,000 due to some unexpected capital expenses, less hockey revenue and higher salaries.

“What we have to wrap our heads around is can we afford to keep a second [arena] open?” said Councillor Wayne Thorburne.

“If we are going to keep it open we have to try anything and everything to make things possible. More ice time? Maybe increase in rents?

To keep the building open would cost $138,000 and to demolish it would cost $162,000.

The economic spinoffs for businesses in the area related to owning two ice surfaces, including tournaments especially, were also considered.

“We built a multi-purpose centre, and if it can’t serve that purpose we got ripped off and I regret voting in favour of it,” said Mayor Walker.

“It needs the trade shows, it needs the dog shows, it needs the conventions and it needs concerts. If it is the only facility in Bridgewater then we are going to make a real mess of the users of the ice surfaces. That’s the advantage of having the two ice surfaces.”

Deputy Mayor Bill McInnis presented the option of simply reorganizing the BMA’s management.

“What you have to do in my view is make it part of the lifestyle centre. You have one management. All you need at that rink is someone to run the plant. You need someone to book ice and someone to clean it. You don’t need a full management structure.”

It was decided Mayor Walker will approach the Municipality of the Lunenburg, and the LCLC to set up a meeting with Bridgewater council.

“We’re in competition with the old rink that we own. How stupid is that?” said Deputy Mayor McInnis.

“The residents can’t afford on their own to keep a second ice surface open in this county.”

Currently, 70 per cent of the BMA’s users live outside the town.

“There’s tough decisions and there’s really critical decisions to be made this year,” said Mayor Walker.

The Town of Bridgewater’s budget may be approved in May or June.

Councillor Tanner provided an alternative business model that may prevent the discussion from becoming too political in terms of presenting any sort of risk to MODL. It would reduce administrative costs while managing the BMA space more efficiently.

“What I could see happening is having the LCLC meet with the Town of Bridgewater and structure some kind of design for managing the BMA facility, with a maximum deficit, so to speak, that would never impact LCLC.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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