Right in the centre - To afford or not to afford


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

In a letter to the editor in the Minnedosa Tribune, Elvin Birch poses the question of whether Minnedosa and area can afford a new arena. The letter seems well documented and raises a lot of questions that don’t seem to have been part of the public debate. It is the kind of debate that every community goes through, but few have the debate as thoroughly as they should.

Back in the late 1960s, Neepawa didn’t go through the debate as deeply as Minnedosa is doing now, but the circumstances were different then. Neepawa’s old arena was in really tough shape and had to be replaced. It was a similar situation to what Rivers faced a few years back. When an arena becomes structurally unsafe, it’s time to get a new one IF a community can afford it. As a property owner in Rivers, our family was fully aware of the cost to us and we voted on the “yes” side.

Back in the ‘60s, Neepawa had several different factors. The Town was growing, albeit ever so slightly and due in large part to people moving in from surrounding rural areas. The old arena had outlived its useful lifespan. In addition, the largest hall in the town was the Legion and the salt plant had just closed. Many people may not know that Neepawa’s Yellowhead Centre’s hall was the warehouse for the salt wall. Built like Fort Knox, it was transformed, and continues to be upgraded 47 years later, into a community hall with an official occupancy capacity of over 700.

Rivers had a perfect storm of circumstances in that the Legion Hall was the biggest in the town, the curling rink needed to be replaced and the arena was close to being condemned, if my memory serves me correctly. In addition, the councils of the day, now a combined town and municipal council, saw the need and moved forward. Some would say too aggressively but nonetheless, the result is a curling rink, arena and community hall that is attractive, well used and is the location for many events. Those events include some big curling bonspiels such as the Golden Gals Provincials this past weekend. Rivers has also been able to hold some hockey schools and extra tournaments, a hope and dream that all towns have, including Minnedosa.

Considering the long debate and struggle in Minnedosa, Elvin Birch raises a point that may not have been considered closely enough. Minnedosa’s facility needs work, all arenas do. The question Birch raises is whether the existing ice surface area is structurally sound. Birch says the engineering reports say it is. If that is so, it is a game changer, but that question may be coming out into the public forum too late.

Minnedosa has worked hard to achieve a new facility, but is it being approached in the best way? Mr. Birch raises some significant doubts, such as how to dispose of the old arena and how the loss of the Husky over-charged tax revenue will impact future tax bills.

Most rural Manitoba towns would say they can’t survive without an arena. It’s a matter of finding what level of arena expense the town and area can support. Building may be the easy part, sustaining and maintaining is the harder part. It appears that Rivers got it mostly right and their model may be one to learn from.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.