Members of city council are quietly pushing to have a twin-pad arena built on a larger property than originally planned, sparking fears that the project could be stalled.
“If they do this, it is going to reopen the debate, and every councillor is going to want their pet project there,” Michael Fogarty said. “It is going to delay things further.”
Just weeks after council agreed to build an arena on a 25-acre parcel of city-owned land by the fall of 2010, some are campaigning behind the scenes to move the project to a 45-acre property located nearby, Fogarty said.
“This is being pushed quite heavily,” he added.
The larger property was to be saved for industrial use, but according to Fogarty and others who spoke with Orillia Today, members are increasingly viewing it as the answer to the city’s recreation woes.
“Some councillors want to move the whole MURF out there, some councillors want some options so they can expand out there,” he added.
To date, these discussions have happened out of the public’s view, and included an informal chat at the conclusion of a closed-door meeting on Monday evening, he said.
Fogarty said he felt the discussion was inappropriate and left the room, followed shortly after by Wayne Gardy.
“When council starts discussing an item that would lead to a decision of council, it is a meeting,” Gardy told Orillia Today. “The clerk should be present and it should be recorded.”
Gardy echoed concerns that the project could be delayed by a change of location.
“It shouldn’t even be discussed,” he said. “Council made a decision that we need a twin pad now, as well as keeping the community centre in use until the twin pad is ready.”
Ralph Cipolla concurred.
“It would delay the construction of the twin pad until at least 2011, and that is not acceptable” he said.
Cipolla, who continues to pursue a portion of the Huronia Regional Centre property for the MURF, is urging council to follow its original plan.
“People are only asking for a twin pad,” he said. “Let’s build it, and that will give us time to assess what we are going to do about getting a premier recreation facility, rather than piece meal. If we go to the 45 acres, we are going to end up with a barn again, and that is unacceptable.”
User groups who were left scrambling to secure ice time following the closure of the community centre were angered to learn of the discussions.
“All we asked for was a simple, twin-pad facility – that is all we wanted,” said Bruce Goddard, a member of the Twin Lakes Oldtimers Hockey Club.
Goddard spearheaded a petition for the new arena, gathering more than 3,000 names with the help of other groups, including minor hockey and figure skating.
“It is a typical Orillia situation,” he added of the recent development. “You start something, then it’s ‘Change this and change that.’
“People should get on the blower and start calling their councillors,” he added. “They can get their numbers on the city’s web site, or call city hall.”
Orillia Minor Hockey president Cathy O’Connor is concerned not with the site but the prospect of a delay.
“I’m more concerned about them getting that piece of property and all of sudden they want to put the MURF there, and that is where the delay would come from,” she said. “They’ll fight about the spot, and are they going to want to add the pool? They made a decision, stick with it.”
Fogarty, who opposes a change in venue, said “there is a real concerted effort of trying to get this through.
“I think councillors are slowly waking up to the fact that (a recreation complex on West Street) is not going to happen,” he said.
Joe Fecht tried but failed to convince council to move the majority of the MURF project to the 45-acre site.
He would “absolutely support” a proposal to move the twin pad to the larger property.
“If we can’t proceed on West Street, we potentially have another opportunity to look at the other aspects of a recreational sports complex,” he said.
Coun. Tim Lauer earlier argued in favor of building an arena on the larger property, saying it offered room for additional soccer fields and other outdoor amenities.
“As we get closer to the actual design, if there are some compelling arguments to move it, I will certainly be championing them again,” he said. “Right now, the priority for me is that everything moves forward.”
Lauer continues to support the West Street property for the MURF, but said that, were the site deemed unworkable, “you would at least have that option” with the 45-acre property.
Lauer rejects the notion that building the arena on the larger property would delay the project.
“It wouldn’t be a big deal,” he added. “It would just be a discussion about which side of the road you want to be on.”
Both Lauer and Fecht downplayed the significance of the impromptu discussion held Monday.
“We were just getting an update of information,” Fecht said.