Leaside rink funding passed at committee

[attach]5348[/attach]The city is poised to approve an additional $3 million in financing to build the long-awaited second ice pad at Leaside Memorial Gardens when the 2012 city budget is put to a final vote Jan. 17.

On Jan. 9, budget committee members granted approval of a $7.5 million loan, and a $1.5 million loan from Infrastructure Ontario.

The second rink for Leaside was previously approved at just over $9 million, but costs were driven up to $12.5 million.

Staff worked out a plan in which the city will secure $7.5 million for the Leaside Memorial Gardens’ board of management, to be paid back through a revenue stream of user fees.

The three groups expected to use the second rink — the Leaside Hockey Association, Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association and the Leaside Skating Club — have already agreed to rent the facility and pay the permit fees, local councillor John Parker said during a break in budget.

“We needed to have those commitments in writing and signed before the city would agree to borrow a nickel,” he said.

But at the budget meeting, several councillors questioned the fairness of such a funding scheme, saying potential higher permit rates, set by arena boards of management, mean other groups across the city waiting for prime-time ice won’t be able to make use of the rink.

Beaches-East York rep Janet Davis said the funding mechanism ultimately makes it inaccessible to other potential users of the arena.

“What worries me … is that the fees that are going to be required to recover capital costs to build this facility … will put this rink beyond the reach of most of the hockey associations in our area — except Leaside,” she said.

In the end, Davis said, a wealthy community will be self-financing a project for their own use.

“This cannot be the way we finance public infrastructure in the city of Toronto,” she said.

Councillor Gord Perks echoed Davis, saying the funding model is fundamentally unjust and creates a two-tiered system where a community is taking public money to ultimately create unequal access.

Parker defended the model, asserting that another sheet of ice in the city would relieve pressure on other city-owned arenas where there is high demand for ice time. Not building a rink, he said, won’t curb ice-time demand across the city, and particularly in the midtown corridor.

“We can guarantee equal access if we don’t build the rink,” he said.

Parker also noted the proposed equalized, blended rate for the two ice pads, which will vary depending prime-time and off-peak hours, is still below commercial rink rates.

The capital funding for the expansion project was approved at budget committee. City council will vote on the item Jan. 17–19 as part of the capital budget.