BY MYRON LOVE - The new Seven Oaks Arena, currently under construction in north Winnipeg, is the first tangible result of a relatively new City of Winnipeg policy to transition from publicly-operated arenas to privately-run facilities.
The city currently operates 16 or 17 arenas throughout Winnipeg.
The bulk of the city’s arenas are more than 40 years old and in a bad state of repair.
“The city wants to get out of the arena business,” reported Lorrie Rogalka, treasurer of the Garden City Community Centre and a member of the Seven Oaks Arena Project (SOAP).
“The few city arenas that are privately operated show that private management works more efficiently than government managed facilities.”
The Garden City Community Centre board began lobbying to build a new arena on its site five years ago.
In 2011, the city issued an expression-of-interest to see if any private businesses or non-profits want to build and operate new multiplex arenas or add sheets of ice in existing facilities.
“We were one of the first groups to submit a proposal,” Rogalka says.
“The biggest challenge was that we wanted more than just a rink with two sheets of ice and change rooms. We also wanted to include a meeting space and programming space for community groups. We also wanted an outdoor playground.”
The SOAP committee contracted with Stantec Architecture to design the project.
“A few of the guys from Stantec are from this area,” Rogalka said.
“They know the area needs it, so it’s got a good community feel to it.”
She added that Stantec’s design track record includes the twin-pad Portage Credit Union and the six-pad Evraz Place in Regina.
She said that the $17-million, 103,000 sq. ft. arena facility was first announced at a press conference in February, 2013.
The arena was originally slated to open this coming fall.
However, the project hit a major snag when the contractor backed out at the 11th hour last fall.
“We had to re-tender,” Rogalka said.
“Bird Construction became our new contractor and has been awesome. They’re on the same page as us. They want to see this done and see it done right.”
The new arena is being jointly funded by the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the community centre itself.
The new arena will boast about 100,000 square feet of new construction that will include two new ice surfaces, large dressing rooms, a new canteen, a variety of meeting rooms, indoor walking track, retail space with skate sharpening services, and large open public spaces.
Each rink will be capable of seating a minimum of 350 spectators.
The arena will be physically connected by a new link between the new and existing buildings making it a true multiplex facility.
“We are working with Manitoba Hydro to ensure that we are implementing as many green construction and accessibility strategies as we can,” Rogalka said.
She also reported that the arena has signed up a private major tenant - NRG Athletes Therapy Fitness Inc. - which will be located on the second level.
The company is a high-performance wellness and rehabilitation center specializing in strength and conditioning, athletic therapy, physiotherapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture.
Construction of the new arena began ahead of schedule in March and is expected to be completed by next March.
“When a few of us hockey moms had the idea to get an arena built in our area back in June 2009, we could never have imagined the journey we would take over the next 4.4 years,” Rogalka said.
“We have learned a lot over the course of this project and have worked countless hours to see this idea become a reality.”
In conjunction with the Seven Oaks Arena project, the city is also funding a $9 million expansion of East End Arena in east Winnipeg, which will see one sheet of ice added to the two existing ones.
The City of Winnipeg will shut down two arenas, Old Exhibition and Vimy, when Seven Oaks opens.
It’s hoped that Seven Oaks will only be the first of a few multi-pad arenas that will eventually replace aging city rinks.<0x000a>The city is in discussions with a few other groups regarding other arenas.