Over the past several years, the city of Nelson has gone through an extensive process to get a new arena facility built. Significantly smaller than Creston's development, the 13 million dollar project involved the adding of a new arena to an existing aquatc center whereas in Creston it was the addition of an aquatic centre to an existing arena. This week The Rossland Telegraph's Andrew Zwicker caught up with Nelson Mayor John Dooley to discuss how Nelson got their project completed and what advice they may have to help Rossland with its arena.
To start, tell us a little bit about the process that Nelson went through in getting its new arena constructed and some of things you learned through the process.
The process was long (laughs). We had several attempts at projects and two failed referendums. The third referendum was what we have today.
What does the community believe in? That is a question to ask early on also. That was a key element for Nelson to go forward. People showed us that they really wanted a place to exercise, recreate and get together as a community. There’s no question it has been an economic stimulus for the community as far as events we’ve attracted and acting as an attractant to new people in town and bringing professionals to town.
There are several key elements important to developing a project. One is demonstrate a need. If you can’t demonstrate a need, it’s very difficult to be able to fund a project. The easiest part in a project like this is delivering it. The toughest part is funding it once you’ve delivered the facility. You have to have a fair mix of user fees and taxations. Consequently, you have to demonstrate in some form or another that that user fee capacity is there to fund it and it will continue to grow to maintain the facility as you go forward. Those are key elements that most people don’t think about when they plan thee projects. Believe it or not, that was the key element in the failure of at least one of our referendums. It wasn’t that we didn’t think about those things, but that we didn’t do enough to demonstrate that need.
How did Nelson go about funding the 13 million dollar project?
We could not have done this on our own. We would not have built this project ourselves. We needed the regional district and users of our facilities to be partners in funding this project. We came together with a joint agreement with the regional district. Its an expensive proposition to tackle.
How did you decide on the need for the new arena?
All you have to do is look at simple things like schools: numbers in school enrollment going up or down are a clear indicator in the direction you're headed as far as your capacity to own and operate facilities like recreation complexes. Rossland is, what, about six miles from Trail? Some of the questions that will be asked is should there really be two community complexes within six miles of one another? Those questions need to be asked early on.
Did you get any federal or provincial grants to help fund the project?
We rolled over every rock we could get our hands on and we got some grants, yes. Most people think grants are great and all, but they are generally matching funds so you need to come up with the matching funding for them. While they are great, they don’t generally reduce the costs of your projects. Rather, they help you make your projects better.
What was the overall impact on the tax increases for the project to the resident?
End impact for us was roughly in the neighbourhood of 60 dollars on a hundred thousand dollar property. When we did the analysis, we found that 60 dollars was about the number the community would be prepared to pay. I understood that. Having said that, it wasn’t enough to do the project right. We have some deficiencies there. Had we had more money at our disposal, we could have done a better project, but that’s always the case. Still, we’ll have to face those deficiencies in the near future so we will have to pay for it sooner than later.
Looking back, is there anything you could have done better?
It’s been extremely succesful. That has been so good, it’s been a pitfall actually. When we did the planning, we were conservative on our user numbers and we were a bit too conservative. Our fitness centre, for example, is already over-capacity. In the pool,we didn’t do as much work as we should have and it's heavily used so we’ll still have to do those upgrades later on. You have to be conservative, but it’s important to really be realistic so you get a facility that fits your needs.
What would you say was the critical piece to having the third referendum go through?
Making sure that people felt they were being listened to and yet at the same time letting them know there had to be some reasonable expectations on the facility.
What advice would you give Rossland as it potentially moves into the planning process for a new arena facility?
First and number one: there has to be political will for something to happen. Once the political will is there, the politicians need to get out of the way and leave it to the community to drive the project and come back with what they think is the best fit for the community.
It may not have been the deciding factor in the two failed referendums in Nelson, but it appeared that the projects were driven by politicians and not the community. So, yes, first political will to do something and then ask for--say--twelve people to step forward and lead the process and allow it to take its course. Don’t rush it, but put some reasonable time frames on it with milestones that you want to get to for the first three months.
In the second three months, start public consultation with the greater community, then narrow down into focus groups and say, 'in two years we want to come forward to the community with a project that we feel is workable from a financial perspective and from a community perspective'. Rossland will really have to think is this the number one need for the community right now considering you have good facilities just down the road in Trail. They have a nice pool and rink not far away. I’m not suggesting that’s right or wrong, but you’ll need to be prepared to answer those kinds of questions and that will decide where you go. Is that your number one priority if you’re talking ten million dollars for a new arena?
At the end of the day in Nelson, it was a difficult choice. We knew we had infrastructure debt, sidewalks needed repairs, roads and pipes this that and the other. When we were devloping this complex we needed to sit down as a community and say, 'is this what we need most right now?'".
There is also, of course, the aspect of not just building a recreation complex but putting in a place a key piece to foster economic development in town. Was that factor looked at in Nelson’s case?
There is no question there is an economic growth aspect to it. Social, health and wellness pieces are also large in it. I believe Rossland is similar to Nelson in their health and wellness values. What does the community believe in? That is a question to ask early on also. That was a key element for Nelson to go forward. People showed us that they really wanted a place to exercise, recreate and get together as a community. There’s no question it has been an economic stimulus for the community as far as events we’ve attracted and acting as an attractant to new people in town and bringing professionals to town.
Click here to read our companion piece on Creston's experience.