Mayor Maria McFaddin says it’s about ‘when, not if’ the facility gets demolished.
In October 2023, Castlegar approved plans to develop a multi-unit housing and primary health care facility on the Pioneer Arena site, which is slated to close at the end of this winter’s ice season.
The closure and demolition announcement caused significant public outcry. An online petition launched in December has received over 2,000 signatures in an effort to save the facility from being torn down until a second ice space is available.
During the Feb. 5 Castlegar city council meeting, Chief Financial Officer Chris Barlow presented council with background information on the process that led to the decision to demolish the arena, which was determined in 2020.
Barlow says the community made its stance known in a 2018 defeated referendum for a $32-million plan to add a new sheet of ice to the rec complex along with other improvements.
“The question was posed directly to the community in 2018: ‘To what degree do you support the enhancement of the Castlegar and District Community Complex? With the new, regulation-sized ice sheet to replace the Pioneers?’ 53 per cent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat supported replacing the Pioneer at the complex.
The community has given direction that it’s okay to move past the Pioneer and plan past its end of life, find a replacement at the complex.”
Barlow added that the need for affordable housing and health care in the community is urgent, stating that it’s critical for this project to move forward now because provincial grants are available to fund both the health care facility and housing initiative at the same time.
“The healthcare and housing project requires external funding. The opportunity for that funding is rare; we haven’t seen it in line like it is now. Council and the community have set consistent directions related to the future use of 925 Columbia Avenue, the direction to remove the Pioneer. They desire something better located at the community complex.”
However, the Castlegar Minor Hockey Association disagreed with Barlow’s argument that public consultation showed support for the closure and demolition of the facility.
Amy Byers, representative of the Castlegar Minor Hockey Association, approached council immediately after Barlow to highlight the impact the loss of the arena will have on the community and local economy.
According to Byers, the league attracts 1,282 families each year, with approximately 4,000 visitors coming to the community between October and March.
She said if just 50 per cent of the 4,000 visitors stayed two nights in Castlegar, the city would see over $320,000 deposited into the local economy, a number she says is conservative but impressive.
“The actual amount is likely closer to half a million, especially when you factor in the visiting teams that come into our community on a regular basis for our regular league games. This revenue is substantial, impressive, and extremely important to our economy and local business owners.”
Byers pointed out the feedback from the e-petition launched in December has received over 2,000 signatures, asking council what feedback was received that indicated closing the facility on such short notice is what the community wanted.
“Residents have spoken loud and clear on what’s important to them. The Pioneer is important to them. A second ice surface is important to them.”
Byers asked council if there was a possibility of hosting further public consultation on the process; Mayor Maria McFaddin’s response was no.
“We have been through public forums; we do that every time when we do our strategic plan. The decision to demolish the Pioneer was made by the last council, not even this council but that was their decision to demolish it. The question is around when.”
The city has not confirmed when the facility will be torn down but stated that construction on the new facility is set to begin mid-2024.