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Jeff Redden, who's heading up the fundraising efforts for the arena project, said he's optimistic they can hit their $2.5 million goal by Sept. 30.
Jeff Redden, who's heading up the fundraising efforts for the arena project, said he's optimistic they will be able to bring in several million dollars for the project. - Colin Chisholm

WINDSOR, N.S. The Town of Windsor is crunching the numbers in order to appease the provincial government's requirements before the arena project moves to the next phase.

Windsor's chief administrative officer Louis Coutinho explained the process to councillors at a special meeting July 31. Discussion on the topic lasted more than an hour.

“On Friday, I will give council a full accounting,” said Coutinho, indicating he will have the costs broken down by then as they are required to send the information to the province by Aug. 7.

Windsor will be meeting Aug. 3 at 8 a.m. to review the figures and approve sending the application to the province.

Coutinho said the town is looking at backstopping about $3.4 million, though that figure fluctuated throughout the meeting.

The cost of the project is estimated to be $12.5 million. The provincial government has committed to paying $3 million and it's anticipated the federal government will match that contribution. A total of $6.5 million remains, of which $1 million is coming from the Town of Windsor, $1 million is coming from the Municipality of West Hants and $1.1 million has been fundraised via pledges. That leaves $3.4 million that will still need to be fundraised or covered by the town's coffers.

The arena's fundraising chairman Jeff Redden said he's confident the money will roll in and cited several names of people who are looking to contribute to the project.

“We have a great amount of confidence going forward based on what little fundraising we've done. I would tell you that in the four years of actual fundraising, it wouldn't even amount to four months of time spent. We have not fully started. It's not full throttle,” said Redden.

Later in the meeting, he noted that fundraising has been challenging as they had to start and stop a number of times as the project was changed.

“We haven't been in the position to ask for money, partially because of the CRA and partially, to be honest, because we weren't 100 per cent sure where this was going. There's been so much controversy over this it's made it impossible to actually drive a proper fundraising campaign,” said Redden.

Contentious issue

But not everyone is satisfied with how the project is progressing.

Resident Rick Smith voiced his opinion near the end of the meeting.

“No wonder the town is having financial issues getting this off the ground. It needs to be a community facility, which means we need to have West Hants at the table,” said Smith.

“It should be built so that the entire community can use it and therefore the entire community should pay for it. It's taxpayers money, whether it's federal, provincial or municipal,” he later added.

Warden Abraham Zebian was seated in the public gallery and was asked why West Hants pulled out of joint ownership. They are still contributing $1 million.

“We never felt that we were a partner in the project,” Zebian said, adding, “We felt our opinion was never taken into consideration.”

Smith chastised the handling of the file and said the feasibility study clearly indicated that the Wentworth Road location was a better option that would save taxpayers upwards of $2 million.

“There was a feasibility study done and as best I can tell, it wasn't reviewed or wasn't acknowledged by council and that's another reason why this project has been stalled and has not gotten off the ground and why it still has financial issues,” Smith said.

Windsor Mayor Anna Allen interjected when Smith was referring to the feasibility study and said the location isn't up for debate as council has chosen Long Pond for the arena.

“When council made the decision to go with Long Pond, that's been the vision for 20 years. That was nothing new. We decided to stick with that vision. That is where we wanted it. We didn't want any other location. That's the location we wanted,” she said.

“So, when that study came out, all of my councillors reviewed that study and it did not indicate and follow the vision that the town had for a long time.”

She proceeded to say if they had have selected the Wentworth Road site, they would have had to build an arena for the Windsor Agricultural Society, which would have chewed into any perceived cost-savings.

Smith urged council to reconsider aspects of the project before moving forward.

“Forget location. Come back to reality and let's build a project that works for the entire community and funded by the community. I guarantee you won't have to scratch as hard (to find funding),” he said.

Another resident, Harry Ullock, thanked councillors for moving forward with amalgamation efforts, but had questions and concerns over the upgrades required for College Road. Currently there are no sidewalks and the road is quite narrow.

“I'm just considering the number of kids that walk out to exhibition arena to come to our hockey games, for example, on Friday night. It's in the hundreds sometimes. There's no sidewalk on College Road. It's dark,” said Ullock, who is involved with the Valley Maple Leafs hockey team.

He was told the road upgrade is planned for Year 4 of the capital budget, with the arena becoming operational in Year 2. However, the mayor said they could consider rearranging the years in which capital budget items are completed so they could potentially coincide.


Read More:

$12.5 million hockey facility pitched to Windsor residents

Windsor council ignores final plea to reconsider Long Pond location

New fundraising deadline for Long Pond Hockey Arena puts goal in range – CAO

Windsor's proposed Long Pond arena receives $25k boost from hockey heritage society


'Problem councillor'

Coun. Jim Ivey has been fairly outspoken on the issue of the arena and referred to himself as the “problem councillor” as he's always asking questions.

He thanked the residents for their concerns and said he felt the feasibility study was all for nought.

“We didn't spend 10 minutes talking about that feasibility study as a group,” said Ivey.

“It was a waste of provincial and federal taxpayers money to the tune of probably $60,000 to $80,000. That's a shame; a damn shame.”

He said it was unfortunate that West Hants felt they weren't true partners in the project and said he understood where they were coming from.

“I know that the day they decided to pull out, we lost a 50 per cent partner in the operating costs of the facility. I don't mean to make that about financials but that's the core aspect of this,” said Ivey, who asked multiple questions during the hour-long meeting about the financial impact.

“Given that it's probably about 75 to 80 per cent usage by their citizens, yeah, we should, would, love to have them involved but for people to come to the table, people have to feel like they're welcome at the table, that they're being listened to. When that doesn't happen, you lose. And that's a shame.”

Windsor's CAO said he discussed the feasibility report one-on-one with members of council.

“It's suggested that our council didn't do any work; I think (that) is unfair. Every councillor did their own work on it and drew their own conclusions,” said Coutinho.

Joint council concerns

At the joint council meeting held July 27, Coutinho provided both Windsor and West Hants councils with a status update on the project.

The warden said council opted to pull the plug on being partners in the venture due to questions over the validity of the financial estimates. Those estimates were again reviewed and questioned July 27.

Zebian said he felt the project shared a striking resemblance to what's occurring in Cape Breton with the construction of Sydney's second cruise ship berth. He said CBRM would be on the hook for any additional funds that the project may run into, which he says could be quite costly for residents.

“Me, personally, I see this project heading down that road,” he said.

“The last thing I want to see is this area lose a project because it was trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” said Zebian.

“I respect your guys' opinions. At some point, being a businessman, you've got to stop what's not working and shift the plan,” he continued.

Windsor's CAO said they are not planning to scale back the project.

“There is reason to accept the fact that some things may not get done,” Coutinho said, citing landscaping costs as one example, and using “the King's-Edgehill road for the first couple of years” to access the site as another example.

West Hants Coun. Debbie Francis, who was involved with the arena construction in Newport, expressed frustration over the changing scope of the project.

“Four years ago we were told we were getting this birthplace of hockey shrine and it was going to be this grand thing and it sounded great. It keeps going down hill,” she said.

The project has seen several iterations over the years, and is now an arena with hockey heritage memorabilia displayed on the walls and around the walking track.

“I sit back here and bite my tongue because I remember being in joint council and we were first discussing this and I remember the Newport rink being referred to... as a warehouse with ice,” said Francis, noting how proud she is of the GFL Newport Recreation Centre.

She said if that's what Windsor is now planning to build, perhaps they can revisit the arena and come up with a Plan B something that both Windsor and West Hants could work together on.

Allen said they're working diligently on bringing the project to life and noted they've been talking about paying tribute to the birthplace of hockey for 25 years.

“This project hinges not just on town council but it hinges on all of the residents of our community for our community. It's something we want to be very proud of,” said Allen.

“We have met so many roadblocks from so many sources. I could tell you it's been one of the most difficult things I've had to do in my life but I haven't lost my vision and I'm going to keep going forward with my vision but at the end of the day, as it's filtered through the process and it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but we've given it our best damn shot,” said Allen.

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