PENTICTON - A battle pitting a volunteer Penticton recreation group against for-profit, private interests ended with a victory for the volunteers following their delegation to Monday’s council meeting, February 1, at City Hall.
Penticton Minor Lacrosse Association representatives formed the delegation to Penticton council following a decision made by Spectra, the contractor that operates three of the city’s four rinks to go dry floor at Memorial Arena for only three weeks this coming June.
The Penticton Minor Lacrosse Association rallied the troops and filled council chambers with 90-plus citizens in the gallery as members of the executive approached council, seeking a solution to the group's diminished access to facilities for lacrosse in the city.
“Dry floor” space in one or more of Penticton’s four arenas has historically been available in the spring, but increasing demands for extended ice time have been steadily chipping away at the number of days any of the arenas remain ice free.
Miranda Halladay, parent of two Penticton youths involved in lacrosse, noted the sport brought two tournaments each year to the city. Lacrosse is considered a low barrier sport and has been growing amongst the group's most youthful ages in Penticton in recent years.
She said the group appeared at council because the association was losing access to the city’s facilities, having reached a crisis point last year when McLaren Arena was removed as an option for dry floor surface. She said the loss of access has been happening without consultation, only discovering in January that Memorial Arena wouldn’t be available for more than three weeks.
The association is unable to continue their sport without at least 11 weeks of dry floor space at one of the arenas, preferably Memorial. Younger members can play out of McLaren Park Arena, but the facility’s low roof restricts passes by more senior players.
The group was forced to use the Oliver Arena to play some of their games last year, and played home playoff games in Kelowna.
Halladay said the association was looking for one facility for four months between mid-March and July, preferably Memorial Arena, She also asked the city for a coordinated approach for use and booking of all of the city’s recreation facilities.
Recreation and Culture Manager Lori Mullin put together three options for council’s deliberation.
Option one would see the city leaving the ice in both McLaren and Memorial Park, resulting in $21,000 in revenue to Spectra, and more than $18,000 to the city, while accommodating as many as 1,100 ice booking requests, mostly from out of town groups. The move would displace 220 youth lacrosse and ball hockey players, 25 Junior B lacrosse players and potentially 75 adults. The lacrosse association would be expected to find arena space in Summerland or Oliver.
Option two would see the city provide dry floor in Memorial Arena from mid-April to the end of June, and recommend ice user groups to McLaren Arena. The city would maintain $18,000 in revenue from McLaren spring ice bookings, but would cost Spectra $21,000 in potential revenue, with further potential for loss of out of town revenue from user groups that prefer the close proximity of Memorial Arena to the South Okanagan Events Centre and Okanagan Hockey School ice sheets.
Option three would see the city provide dry floor at McLaren Arena in the spring, allowing ice user groups to use Memorial Arena ice.
This option would not resolve all the issues faced by the lacrosse association, and would also result in a loss of $18,000 in revenue to the city, which would go into Spectra coffers instead. (The city would still need to accommodate a three week June hockey camp under the third option.
Council revisited the matter later in the meeting, hearing from Spectra General Manager Dean Clarke, who said his company had booked concurrent tournaments for 10 weekends in the three rinks located on the SOEC property.
Coun. Campbell Watt said it didn’t make sense the city couldn’t provide dry floor space in one of its four arenas, moving option two to allow lacrosse in Memorial Arena, while Coun. Tarik Sayeed said: “Tourism counts, but not at the cost of our kids.”
Council elected for option two, allowing the lacrosse association access to Memorial Arena.
Penticton Minor Lacrosse Association President Chris Danby, also present at Monday’s meeting, said afterwards the lacrosse group felt they were being sacrificed for the for-profit user groups who are all ice users.
“I’d like to think regardless of how many people showed up last night the presentation of facts would have been enough for council to come to their decision,” he said in an email, “but it was great to have such a strong show of support from the lacrosse community.”
Danby believes council needed some prodding from his members in addition to Lori Mullen’s report to bring them into focus on the issue.
“I was very pleased with the outcome and pleased with council’s support in keeping lacrosse alive in the City of Penticton,” he said. “Some councillors had some good things to say about lacrosse, and it was very much appreciated,” he added.
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