VERNON - Building a new arena in Vernon hasn’t even gone to referendum yet and is already generating concerns.
Local officials are currently waiting for the province to sign off on a borrowing referendum to decommission the Civic Arena and add a second ice sheet at Kal Tire Place — a process that has been fraught with delays.
On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Vernon City Council voted to publicly support the project, although the motion passed in a split 4-2 vote. Councillors Scott Anderson and Bob Spiers voted against the recommendation. For his part, Spiers believes the motion was premature and says he couldn’t commit to the project without knowing the final price tag.
“I support the project, I would love to see the twinning, but I can’t do it without seeing what it’s going to cost us,” Spiers says.
In 2014 the projected cost was $13.2 million, but with procedural delays holding up the referendum, Spiers says the price tag might change by the time the project finally gets going.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham, on the other hand, says she believes it’s important for politicians to stand up and declare their support.
“For me, I recognize there’s a need in our community. We know we have an almost defunct Civic Arena, and the demands for ice time are not going away so, I don’t mind saying that I support an arena,” Cunningham says. “I think it’s an amenity we need in order to make our city more attractive and more viable for young families in particular.”
Meanwhile, a local organization is also going public with thoughts on the project, specifically on the location. The Vernon Farmers Market has been operating twice a week for the last 14 years in the Kal Tire parking lot — the same parking lot pegged as the future site of the arena.
“If they do add the arena to the north side it will probably take up more than half our market, but the biggest worry at this point is for the three years of construction… we’d have to move altogether and there isn’t anywhere to move to,” market manager Ingrid Baron says.
She says the farmers market is one of the main user groups of the property with over 100,000 visitors a year and an estimated economic impact of $3.3 million — yet she says they weren’t consulted until two weeks ago.
“By then most of the plans pretty much showed the north option as the preferred option,” she says.
An alternative is to build the arena on the west side of the property, where Kin Race Track sits. The race track has been mired in a legal battle between the city and the Okanagan Equestrian Society for a number of years, a factor Baron believes led planners to focus arena expansion on the north end, away from the race track.
“We’re hoping they’ll change the preferred option to the west, and if they have to wait for the race track, then they have to wait,” Baron says.
She insists there is nowhere in the city with enough room to accommodate the farmers’ market — which supports over 200 vendors — for any length of time.
“We’re not against sports or any arena at all, we just think everybody can win,” Baron says.
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