Council reaffirms support for field house
SaraH PeTz Telegraph-Journal
SAINT JOHN • Common Council confirmed its support for the $24 million Greater Saint John Field House project Monday night, the same night it endorsed a plan to get the region’s municipalities to work together to improve recreational facilities.
Coun. Gary Sullivan put forward a motion to this effect, noting that while previous councils has expressed support for the project, the current council should also make its commitment known in order to plan for the expenditure.
He said he brought it forward so that council’s position would be clear to the community.
The project is one of three on city’s list of contingent capital projects that it may have to fund in 2017 if they were to move forward.
If the Exhibition Field House project were to proceed, the city would be on the hook for $1.4 million in 2017, part of a three-year commitment totalling $4.2 million.
The other potential projects are the Fundy Quay development, which could cost the city $4.1 million in 2017, and Loyalist Plaza project, with an anticipated city contribution of $3.4 million.
Both Deputy Mayor Shirley Mc-Alary and Coun. David Merrithew voted against Sullivan’s motion. McAlary argued that she didn’t understand why council should single out the field house over other projects, noting that council hasn’t had the chance to see in-depth plans for any of them. “To me, I don’t want the public to be misled that we’re singling out the field house over any other project. Merrithew, who serves as chairman of the city’s finance committee, also argued that council needs to see business plan for the project before moving ahead with supporting it.
“There has to be a business case for each of these projects. We haven’t seen that,”he said, stressing, as he has many times in the past, that the city and council needs to watch its long-term debt. “It is at a stage where it’s impeding your budget to the tune of $16 million in your operating budget,” he said, referring to the amount it costs the city to service its debt each year.
Last week, Mayor Don Darling said he wanted more details on how the Exhibition Field House fits into council’s priorities before the city moves forward with funding the project, adding that he felt the field house should be a regional facility. On Monday, Darling said that while he was supportive of the concept, he’d like to see council and city complete its due diligence.
The motion was approved the same night councillors endorsed a regional recreation plan that would see greater collaboration between communities and possible cost sharing when planning any future facilities in the Greater Saint John region.
The plan was spearheaded by the Fundy Regional Service Commission. The commission will vote on whether or not to move forward with it on Dec. 14.
A report on the plan names the Exhibition Field House project as an example of a regional opportunity for recreation. It argues that the proponent of the facility, City of Saint John, and other communities should explore how it could be leveraged for the benefit of each community in the region.
“Doing so would not halt the planning and development process – it would enhance the project, its benefits and its business plan,” the report says.
“The incentive for the proponent is that its operational business case is strengthened.” A city staff report on the plan notes that 35 per cent of the users of Saint John’s recreational facilities come from outside the city.
“As a result, the plan recognizes the Saint John bears a disproportionately greater burden of funding recreation facilities through City taxpayer subsidization,” the report says.
Saint John Common Council met on Monday night. Photo: SaRah Petz/telegRaPh-JouRnal