Proposed Arena Business Plan revealed

The ice at the Chatham Memorial Arena. (File photo by Ricardo Veneza)

A revamp of how the municipality handles arenas in Chatham-Kent might soon be on the horizon.

At Monday night’s council meeting, councillors will vote on a proposed Arena Business Plan, which features different areas of strategic focus in hopes of revamping all 10 municipal arenas.

One of the biggest changes is a lowered hourly ice rental rate. Rates for prime ice time will go from $204 to $173 plus HST while non-prime and minor hourly ice rental rates would drop from $163 to $152.

The recommendations in the Arena Business Plan come after the municipality announced in January 2019, that arena usage was down across Chatham-Kent. Increasing arena usage is crucial in order for the municipality to continue operating their arenas, which is no inexpensive feat. According to the business plan report, each arena currently receives $89,816 annually for lifecycle needs. Each arena is underfunded and requires $100,417 (2019 dollars) annually to meet its lifecycle requirements. It is estimated that $19,870,000 will be required over the 10 years to address arena facility requirements.

In March, the idea of a business plan went before council and Councillor Anthony Ceccacci introduced a successful motion to ensure that several areas of strategy to be put in the plan, including ice rates and canteen operations. The municipality also consulted community groups that use arenas and hosted several public meetings in the spring to allow residents to give their feedback on the business plan.

The meetings found that CK had some of the highest rates for ice rentals in the region and many arena users said that lowering ice rates would help make the facilities more viable.

“User groups believe that reducing ice rates to a level competitive with neighbouring municipalities will increase registration,” the report stated. “Some hockey associations advised that the reduction in ice cost would not result in a reduction to registration fees paid by the users, but will enable them to meet expenses, such as referee fees, mileage expenses, governing body fees and a reduction in monies raised through fundraising.”

Currently, available ice is offered at a discounted rate of $100 per hour during school breaks in December and March. The Arena Business Plan recommends looking at the possibility of expanding that discount for other specified time periods.

“Feedback received from the user groups indicates they may book additional ice if it was offered at a discounted rate throughout the season,” read the report.

If the plan passes, the rates would be effective starting in September 2019 for a two-year trial period. A maximum of $242,711 each year would be pulled from the Council Strategic Reserve to make up for the decrease in ice fees. Starting in November 2019 for a two-year trial, the plan also recommends that ice time that has not been previously booked but has regularly scheduled staff available to be sold at a rate of $100 per hour plus HST.

Besides costs, the proposed plan would also redefine when prime hours and non-prime hours are to fit in line with facilities in neighbouring cities and municipalities. Prime ice rate times would be from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. Monday through Friday instead of 4 p.m. until midnight. Saturday and Sunday prime ice times will be all day on until 11 p.m., an hour shorter than the current weekend ice time.

The business plan also looks to bring more community-focused activities into the arenas. The goal is to try to “enhance the capacity of community organizations” using arenas for recreational programs such.

“Recreation Services will assist in facilitating a program needs assessment in collaboration with the recreation facility supervisors within the 10 existing arenas, understanding that each arena may have specific program needs and opportunities that are unique to their own communities,” the plan states.

Canteen services, and making them more efficient, were also reviewed for the business plan. Currently, nine out of the 10 arenas have concessions however, the report revealed that in 2017, the canteens ran at an accumulated operating loss of $21,188 which is blamed on low usage, combined with staffing and food costs.

“Recreation Facilities staff have reviewed the various menu offerings to find commonalities that provide opportunities for bulk buying and associated cost savings,” said the report. “These common menu items were reviewed by bulk food suppliers to determine cost efficiencies and it has been determined that annual savings of $1,200 will be realized.”

The plan also notes that discussions will take place within the Recreational Services Department to determine a cooperative approach to marketing, adding that on-line ice booking software will be available in 2020.