The city is hiring a consultant to analyze the 14 bids they received from companies interested in building a new rink. Catherine Matheson, the city's general manager of community development, said companies responded with a range of proposals, from providing only seats, all the way to designing, building and operating the arena themselves. Estimates range from $35 million to $85 million.
“Staff is recommending we hire somebody who is fluent in understanding the different types of public-private partnerships within the arena sector,” Matheson said. “We need more expert advice … They would come back to the committee to let you know what options are available to you.”
The proposals are complex, she said, and the consultant would analyze the bids and explain in detail what each involves. That report would come back to council, who would then decided which direction they want to go — either building the rink themselves, or going with a public-private partnership similar to the one used for the $60 million biosolids plant.
“Once committee and council decide which direction they want to go … then we'll do a far-reaching request for proposal to determine what other proponents are out there in that realm.”
But Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett said the public should also be included when the consultant finishes analyzing the proposals. Public meetings should be held on that report, as well as on the RFP before it's put out to tender.
“And then that council — which will be the next city council — will make the decision,” Kett said. “I think that's the way to do it. If we don't engage the people, we don't sell it. Because this is going to be an expensive operation.”
Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino said the business plan will be critical, as well as details on capital, operational and other costs.
“This next step cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance,” Cimino said. “It's either going to sell this project to council (and) sell this project to the community … or it's going to sink the project. It's as simple as that.”
Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis said the public should be asked about the future of the old arena — whether it should be preserved in some form, or torn down and used for future development.
“Are we going to be asking people what should be done with the old arena? Or are we just going to level it?”
The report should include information on revenue projections for a new rink, he said, including how much of an increase in concerts and other non-OHL events can be expected. The decades-old arena can't accommodate many of the bigger touring acts, limiting the number of bookings in a year.
Whether a new arena will lead to a significant increase in business,“that's going to be critical, too,” Dupuis said, in getting public support.
Bidders were told the new rink must include an NHL-size ice pad, seating capacity to host the Memorial Cup, eight dressing rooms — with a premier dressing room for the home team — a treatment room and capacity to host major concerts and events.
The existing Elgin Street arena must also stay open during construction of the new facility.