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Prince George city-arena report outlines estimated COVID-19 shortfall as user groups believe in reopening solutions

New city report suggests some rinks may stay closed ‘until 2021 (or later)’

Nine sports organizations in Prince George are collectively calling on the city to consult with them in hopes of soon reopening public arenas.

On July 14, officials announced the indefinite closure of ice rinks as a result of COVID-19’s impact on mass gatherings, it’s potential impact on public safety and a general lack of revenue during the unprecedented time.

This week, a letter was penned by the Prince George Recreation Hockey League (PGRHL) ahead of the next city council meeting on Monday (July 27) with the hope, once more, to appeal to elected officials to reconsider the mental impact the closures could have on young people.

While understanding the pandemic is set to create a financial pit that could take years, ‘if not decades,’ to recover, PGRHL spokesperson Allen Hines believes when demand makes it financially responsible, there’s a possibility on the table to reopen some of the four public arenas sooner than later.

“We are confident that the demand at the youth level is already there,” he says.

“We are aware that adult recreation 5-on-5 hockey may not be possible until the provincial health guidelines are amended or more important we are allowed to proceed with plans that reflect the infection rates in the Northern Health region rather than the entire province. Once arenas begin operations this fall, we plan to work with the adult hockey organizations to see if there are alternative opportunities to normal 5-on-5 play that would be allowed under the safe return to play guidelines. This would help fill ice later in the evening after youth is done and increase revenue to help alleviate the overall costs of operations.”

The potential budget shortfall of $9 million for 2021 is on the docket for Monday’s council meeting and a public report is also being put forward by Adam Davey, City Director of Community Service and Public Safety.

It states lifting the closures for certain facilities could widen that gap, in the assumption that a vaccine hasn’t been produced and B.C. is still in Phase Three of its COVID-19 restart plan, and keeping arenas closed will cost the city less.

Even though Davey’s report does suggest possibly opening the CN Centre and Kin Arenas in mid-August on the grounds of high user-group demand and a low unsubsidized cost recovery, the increased rates for use of the facilities this year and the next could significantly drive that demand down.

“There is confirmed user group demand for three sheets of ice by August 17 or thereabouts (at the current Fees and Charges Bylaw rates – demand is likely to greatly diminish at the unsubsidized cost recovery rate). A fourth sheet of ice could be added for mid-September, and the fifth and sixth sheets by late September. The true cost-recovery rate is approximately four times higher than the discount youth rate and twice as high as the adult discount rate.”

PG arena rates - July 24, 2020Prince George city arena cost recovery rates vs. fees and charges bylaw rates. (via City of Prince George)

As per B.C.’s health ministry, Phase Three permits game-play, which Davey notes could reduce morale and overall enjoyment of using the arenas with mandatory physical-distancing measures and less than 50 people allowed in the building.

That would include staff appointed by the city to ensure cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

In his letter, Hines says proper consultation may be the answer to some of these issues, claiming there’s been no talks between user groups and the city regarding the indefinite closures.

“We feel that with the safe return-to-play plans that are required that it will be as safe as possible for organizations to begin offering limited opportunities to youth and other groups to begin using the arenas while following the provincial health guidelines,” he adds.

“We believe that through consultation with all user groups, we can find some solutions to the additional cost associated with cleaning, sterilization, and maintenance of the buildings.”

According to Davey’s report to council, the incremental cost of reopening all four ice arenas in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic would result in a combined shortfall of $3.16 million.

This includes opening them for the final five months of 2020 and all of 2021 and, again, assuming B.C. remains in Phase Three of its restart plan, working out to a total average hourly, unsubsidized cost of $450 per hour.

Let’s break down the projected numbers, which would include the hiring of staff for security measures and cleaning requirements, which Davey says would require a 15- to 30-minute turn-around between user groups:

KIN ARENAS

If all three are open in September, Davey estimates the cost recovery would be 37 per cent with the remaining 63 per cent subsidized by the city and offset by taxpayer dollars.

That’s roughly double the amount needed to make up expenses in 2019, which only required a 33 per cent subsidy.

  • Cost to reopen
    • 2020 (5 months) = $300,000
    • 2021 (12 months) = $720,000

ROLLING MIX CONCRETE ARENA

The 62-year-old aging piece of infrastructure, as put by city staff at previous meetings, continues to decline in terms of cost-recovery rate, which could be 16 per cent by the end of 2020.

Last year, expenses went up by 21 per cent to $1.095 million, but only 28 per cent of that was met with revenue, meaning, to meet its fiscal total, subsidies and taxpayer dollars had to make up the final 72 per cent.

  • Cost to reopen
    • 2020 (5 months) = $210,000
    • 2021 (12 months) = $500,000

CN CENTRE

The Cougars’ den is in a healthy state, Davey writes, but if it were to reopen in September, the cost-recovery rate is expected to be 41 per cent and the remaining 59 per cent would need to be offset.

In 2018 and 2019, subsidies and taxpayer dollars only needed to make up for 28 and 36 per cent, but Davey believes the downward trend will continue with ‘fewer hockey fans and concertgoers’ projected.

  • Cost to reopen
    • 2020 (5 months) = $300,000
    • 2021 (12 months) = $720,000

ELKSENTRE

This facility’s cost-recovery is also on the decline with its age, predicted to be 21 per cent if it opens in September.

The Elksentre’s 2018 expenses were cut in half in terms of revenue and offset-costs, while last year saw 67 per cent in offsets needed to bring the arena up to par.

  • Cost to reopen
    • 2020 (5 months) = $120,000
    • 2021 (12 months) = $290,000

Despite the projected financial toll, in which the user groups also recognize COVID-19's threat to public safety as it continues, Hines makes the case for the psychological toll the closure could have on younger athletes wishing to participate in the sports they love.

“We understand the challenges that we, as a city, face, but are confident that as elected leaders in our community you will make decisions that will help with the safe return to somewhat normal activities and opportunities for the youth and general population of our great city.

“I hope you see the value to our community that the opportunity for a return to some measure of normalcy is beneficial both for both physical and mental well being. We hope that you can show the leadership we need at this time to get our youth back on the ice and from there as it is safe to do so the adult users will be able to return as well.”

Cariboo Hockey, one of the organizations listed in Hines’ letter, says it’s received tentative ice times starting Aug. 18, which would be the earliest start for its summer development camps.

The other listed user groups in agreement with Hines’ statement include:

  • Executive, Prince George Recreation Hockey League
  • Executive, Prince George Gentlemen’s League
  • President, PG Draft Hockey
  • Executive, Prince George Ringette
  • Executive, Spruce City Old Timers Hockey
  • President, Northern BC Centre for Skating
  • President, Prince George Figure Skating Club
  • Prince George Minor Hockey Association

The Prince George Spruce Kings also have tentative ice times at the RMCA for its Modified Summer Hockey School, which would start as early as Aug. 17.

Monday’s council meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

More information and a livestream link can be found on the city’s website

A social-distanced ‘sit-in’ is also being circulated on social media for Monday at 4 p.m., two hours before the public council meeting, in hopes of showing ‘how many people and user groups are affected by not opening the rinks.’

As of this publication, there are 79 positive cases of COVID-19 in Northern Health.

The Prince George Cougars and WHL are tentatively scheduled to start the 2020-21 season on Oct. 2, while the Spruce Kings and BCHL are tentatively scheduled to start its campaign Dec. 1.