Active Communities Alberta (ACA) has a new vision to make St. Albert home to the region's first outdoor recreation facility.
Matt Bachewich, president of ACA, said the non-profit will be presenting the project to council on Tuesday. ACA's goal is to have the facility up and running by this fall, Bachewich said.
"This is an opportunity for St. Albert to be a leader in innovative recreational facility opportunities and improve the health of our community coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic," Bachewich said. "It's an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done in our region before."
Modelled after the refrigerated Greenwood outdoor ice rink in Toronto, the facility would bring needed ice space to St. Albert with opportunities to host other sports like pickleball and lacrosse during warmer seasons, he said. Refrigerated rinks could also extend the outdoor skating season in St. Albert.
The outdoor covered facility would have two concrete pads for arena ice or dryland sports. Dressing rooms, a place to warm up, staffing and a Zamboni to resurface the ice are all planned for the site.
Council voted in November to rescind a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ACA for a $42-million multi-use recreational facility, which would have committed the city to split the cost of construction. Instead of running a "massive structure" in the city's northwest, the operating costs for this outdoor facility would include some salary wages, maintenance and utility costs, Bachewich said. It would be funded through donations, corporate sponsorships, advertising and grants.
Bachewich said ACA would operate it "on a self-sustaining basis and not on the backs of taxpayers for the operating costs."
In the last three months, ACA has raised $500,000 to put toward construction. While Bachewich said they don't have a set goal in mind, additional fundraising efforts would allow ACA to expand the scope of their project to include more amenities, like a skating trail or more change rooms for other sport groups to use. A potential location is still being decided, but Bachewich said ACA's goal is to have the facility up and running by this fall.
"With the successful launch of this project, we believe that there can be future projects around the city that provide a facility that's similar to what we're proposing," he said. "There's definitely scalability to this project."
While this project will be different, Bachewich said ACA was inspired by Toronto's Greenwood ice rink, the first of its kind in the city. Opened in 2013, the City of Toronto invested $3.4 million for the artificial ice rink and roof, bolstered with a $300,000 donation from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. Since then, Toronto has opened 52 outdoor refrigerated ice rinks.
"That's been a huge gathering place for the community and we certainly feel this project is very aligned with our values."
According to a survey ACA did in 2018, more than 95 per cent of the 151 sports families surveyed agreed there was a shortage of recreational facilities in the city. Nearly all of those surveyed agreed a lack of ice in the city is the main driver for out-of-town practises.
In an email to the Gazette, Coun. Jacquie Hansen said she is "cautiously optimistic" about the project. Hansen was a long-time supporter of ACA's plans for a non-profit run recreation facility.
"It would be great if we could get a refrigerated outdoor rink built that could not only begin to meet the needs of some sports groups but also get built without using tax dollars," she wrote.
"Of course, the devil is in the details and there are still many unanswered questions. I do look forward to hearing ACA's presentation on Tuesday."
Previous plans iced
If this project sounds familiar, that's because it is.
Last February, council voted no to taking further action on plans to construct an outdoor refrigerated covered rink. Coun. Sheena Hughes spearheaded the idea as a way of bringing more ice space to St. Albert. The initial budget of $1.2 million was approved during budget deliberations in 2019.
However, the community living standing committee (CLSC) advised council to stop further work on the project after considering public input and cost implications.
City staff said they heard from a total of 32 residents surrounding Larose Park – where an existing rink would have been upgraded with refrigerated ice and a dome roof – and feedback was consistently unfavourable.
Community recreation manager Daniele Podlubny said research on similar rinks in other communities revealed the rink’s true price tag could range from a low $1.2 million up to $3.5 million.
Council's decision didn't kibosh the idea completely however – a refrigerated surface could still be part of the scope for larger development projects, like Millennium Park downtown or the city's future site for a recreation facility in the northwest.
Before Tuesday's council meeting, Hughes said she was looking forward to hearing what ACA had to say. The idea of ACA financing more ice space in St. Albert with minimal contribution from the city has "real potential."
"It's a minimal investment from the city with the potential for huge payoff, provided we are ensuring that the operating costs are feasible," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how we can work together to make this a reality."
Figuring out where to put the refrigerated rink will likely be the biggest challenge, she said, as residents have made it clear before about placing it in an existing neighbourhood.
"We do want to make sure we have the parking and traffic flow to be able to accommodate people bringing their children or sport teams to the site with minimal disruption to surrounding area."