Older rinks on thin ice

pg11-s-lebretonSkaters enjoy a glide on the ice at McNabb Arena during a public skating session in early December. Some hockey officials think an older rink may be shut down when a new downtown Sensplex is built. Kristine Lee, Centretown NewsA new multi-pad Sensplex arena at LeBreton Flats — part of the plans to redevelop the sprawling Centretown property west of Parliament Hill — could lead to the closure of McNabb Arena or other central-area rinks, observers say.

And this could drive up costs for not-for-profit minor hockey associations, according to league executives.

Michael Skeggs, president of the Ottawa West Minor Hockey Association, said a new Sensplex facility at LeBreton Flats could lead the city to close McNabb, Brewer or Tom Brown arenas —older rinks that have been in declining condition for some years, according to Skeggs.

“I would bet McNabb Arena will be closed over Brewer or Tom Brown,” Skeggs said. “But one rink will close for sure. Not sure when, but it will.”

Late last week, the National Capital Commission board approved the RendezVous LeBreton proposal for the redevelopment of the historic Ottawa neighborhood LeBreton Flats. 

The proposal, put together by a group that includes current Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, includes a “sports training facility with two new ice pads,” according to a recent CTV News report. 

The complex would be located close to Tom Brown Arena and Bayview Yards.

It would add two ice pads to Hockey Eastern Ontario’s Bytown district, which encompasses the central area of Ottawa. Centretown, located in the centre of the district, only has one arena  — McNabb, located on the corner of Percy Street and Gladstone Avenue.

Daniel Danis, chairman of the Bytown district, said losing McNabb Arena would not be good for the local minor hockey associations. It currently relies on city ice rates that are considerably lower than what is charged at private facilities, such as the multi-rink Sensplex facilities in Gloucester and Kanata.

“You’re looking at between $300 and $350 at one of the shiny new Sensplex rinks,” said Danis. “We have the ice with the city at $180.”

Danis said the Sensplex facilities don’t have to pay property taxes as part of their 25-year deal with the city of Ottawa. He doesn’t find this fair, considering the registration costs imposed by Hockey Canada on parents who pay the fees.

“The Sensplex gets tax free to help them out, but they’re still raking in lots of cash,” Danis said. “It doesn’t help the taxpayers who pay for their kids to play hockey.”

The Bell Sensplex, completed in December 2004, was the first public-private partnership facility to be built under an agreement between the Ottawa Senators and the City of Ottawa. In addition to waived property taxes, the city also removed development charges for the construction of the first Sensplex.

The process was repeated for the opening of the Richcraft Sensplex in Gloucester in August 2014.

Since the opening of the two facilities, the Sensplexes have hosted minor hockey tournaments sanctioned by HEO. The tournaments have been successful and often fill up with teams from out of town, mainly from Ontario and Quebec, according to Lucas Cacciotti of the Gloucester Hockey Association, the association that includes the Richcraft Sensplex.

However, when teams choose to register in Sensplex tournaments, it can reduce interest in community-run tournaments put on by associations such as the Ottawa Centre Minor Hockey Association, said Cacciotti.

“Our tournaments have seen a much lower team turnout, specifically from out of town teams, since the opening of the (Richcraft) Sensplex,” said Cacciotti. “It really kills the profits that associations can make on their tournaments, which then help fund their minor teams.”

The Senators are continuing negotiations with the NCC about the development of LeBreton Flats. Next steps in the process will be announced in the new year.