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Council pushes forward Northside Phase 1, puts Phase 2 on hold

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Council pushes forward Northside Phase 1, puts Phase 2 on hold

Photo courtesy of Chris Vandenbreekel

Phase 2 of the Northside Multi-Use Facility lives to see another day.

Council voted 8-1 in favour of putting the swimming pool and recreational phase of the project on hold pending an administration scope review Tuesday night, after a long and rigorous debate about the need for the project.

The motion originally called for the cancellation of the project design, but Councillor Sheldon Germain’s amendment to instead classify it as on-hold passed with only Councillor Tyran Ault opposed. The latter councillor’s opposition stemmed from some disagreement on the intent of the original motion.

“The public has told us what we want,” Ault said. “I thought we could have easily tweaked the design without halting it and doing a full scope review.”

There were worries from Mayor Melissa Blake and councillors that voting on the cancellation of the project design would either mean completely scrapping the development or moving ahead with no option to change the elements of the design. Chief Administrative Officer Marcel Ulliac seemed to side with Councillor Ault, saying that the removal of no-longer-needed aspects such as the movie theatre and bowling alley wouldn’t require a full scope review.

“If that is ultimately council’s wish,” Ulliac said. “It would be a matter of simply removing those two components and allow for administration to pursue the finalizing of the design.”

The movie theatre originally slated for the multi-use facility under Landmark Cinema’s operation has been moved to a development in Eagle Ridge, which has yet to begin construction.

Phase 1 to stand alone… for now

Council also voted unanimously in favour of pushing forward with Phase 1 of the project, the twinned arenas, as a standalone project. This means that if Phase 2 is ultimately built, the two buildings will no longer be connected but will exist in a campus-style arrangement. Administration warned councillors during debate that by separating the two projects, Phase 2 would cost $30 million more than if it were built in connection with the arenas.

Ultimately, council decided to address the need for more ice-time in the community and to delay Phase 2 to make sure it was “done right.”

“Even us old rec hockey guys don’t want to be playing at 3 in the morning,” said Councillor Allan Vinni.

Manager of Community Strategies Monica Lance told council that current ice use around Fort McMurray is at 68% capacity, assuming a 24/7 ice availability window, with the Casman Centre and Frank Lacroix Arena operating at over 75% each.

On Phase 2, concerns were brought forward by Councillors Stroud and Bussieres over the potential on-going operational costs year-by-year for the facility. Administration was unable to provide figures on how much the recreation facility would cost each year, but pegged the 40-year cost of the twin ice pads at $135.5m total.

Commuter policy, public engagement for Sport Connection approved

The Northside debate dominated much of council, but wasn’t their only piece of business for the evening.

Council unanimously approved the end of municipal funding for fly-in, fly-out and commuting arrangements for all RMWB employees. The policy comes as a result of the 2014 KPMG audit.

A directive to administration to begin public consultation on the creation of an RMWB Sport Connection similar to the Calgary Sport Authority was also approved, with the $604,000 in legacy funds from the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games to be set aside for the organization’s operation. The Sport Connection would aim to develop athletes in the RMWB with the goal to send them to regional, provincial, national, and international competitions. It would also work with Fort McMurray Tourism to bring sporting events to the region.

Notes: Doug Fader Road was renamed Doug Fader CV Road to recognize the man’s Cross of Valour… Councillor Tatum was absent due to a personal matter, while Councillor McGrath couldn’t attend due to travel in Europe.

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