Great Plains Recreation Facility Opens in SE Calgary

 

In the beginning of September, The City of Calgary handed over the keys of the new Great Plains Recreation Facility to Canlan Ice Sports. Canlan is a company that has a significant presence operating numerous public ice surfaces throughout North America.

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It is no secret that communities in southeast Calgary are underserved when it comes to public infrastructure. We have some of Calgary’s fastest growing communities in Ward 12, and keeping up with that growth has been a daunting task.

While the opening of Great Plains will not satisfy the considerable demand for ice we see in southeast Calgary, it is certainly a step in the right direction. With the opening of two more sheets of ice at the Seton Recreation Facility in 2018, we will further enhance some of Calgary’s fastest growing areas.

Great Plains is a unique facility. We have an operator that is forging a new presence in this city. Over the last number of months there has been a lot of speculation and misinformation regarding this facility and the operating agreement that Canlan Ice Sports is bound by. In an effort to get as much information on the table as possible I have drafted this article to touch on a number of key topics:

  • Engaging with youth hockey stakeholders
  • Ice allocations
  • Adult hockey start times
  • Ice costs
  • Operating model

A number of weeks ago I produced an initial article that solely discussed the issues of ice allocation. My team has compiled a comprehensive amount of information on the other aspects of this facility, and I hope you find the information useful.

ENGAGING WITH YOUTH HOCKEY STAKEHOLDERS

Sport Calgary was engaged as the representative organization for amateur sport in Calgary to develop allocation principles to ensure a balance of public ice availability and operator programming. The resulting allocation principles contained in the operator agreement further build on The City’s Public Use Policy.

Over the summer I met youth hockey stakeholders from Hockey Calgary (HC), Bow Valley Hockey Association (BVH) and Blackfoot Hockey Association (BFH) who raised a number of concerns with the way this new facility would be operating. Concerns included:

  • Inequity in the allocation of prime time ice;
  • Lack of weeknight prime time ice allocation;
  • Concern that adults were being allocated weeknight prime time ice (6:15 – 11:00pm);
  • Cost of the rental of ice;
  • Over 50% of ice being provided to a particular youth hockey group on Sunday; and,
  • Tax payer dollars being used to support ‘For Profit’ organizations.

Immediately after my meeting with the hockey groups I passed the consolidated feedback along to City administration and asked them to investigate further. Over the course of the next month I provided a number of updates back to the youth hockey stakeholders. This culminated in a note from the Recreation Department on August 2nd that they would be reaching out to youth hockey stakeholders directly. On August 8th there was a meeting between Canlan Ice Sports and Hockey Calgary. Representatives from Recreation were also in attendance.

My involvement in this process has been to escalate the concerns that I have received as the Councillor for Ward 12 and to follow up with City administration, who is responsible for ensuring Canlan is operating within the terms of the operator agreement, which is based on The City’s Public Use Policy. It is not within my power, nor is it appropriate in my role as Councillor, to demand that Canlan make specific changes to their schedule and it is certainly not within my power to dictate how Hockey Calgary makes ice allocations to community hockey associations in my Ward.

ICE ALLOCATIONS

The facts that have been presented to me most recently by City administration regarding allocation are as follows:

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  • Prime ice time is considered 4:00p.m. – 10:00p.m. (Monday through Friday) and 7a.m. – 10p.m. on weekends.
  • The partnership between Canlan Ice Sports and The City upholds The City of Calgary’s Public Use Policy (CSPS031), which states partner operated facilities must be made available to the public 50% of the time.
  • The current bookings schedule for Great Plains allocates 42 per cent of prime time to Hockey Calgary, a minor hockey association, and 29.6 per cent to other minor ice sport associations such as ringette and figure skating with an additional 2.8 per cent going to adult contract holders. In total, 71.6 per cent of all prime time in the current booking schedule is allocated to minor ice sport organizations. Canlan currently uses 25.6 per cent of prime time for its own “in-house” programming (Adult Safe Hockey League). The percentage of prime time allocated to public bookings, in particular; minor sport bookings, significantly exceeds what is required by The City’s Public Use Policy for partner-operated facilities. They have demonstrated they are in compliance with this requirement and continue to work closely with sport groups to negotiate the allocation schedule.
  • No adult league games begin before 7 p.m. on one rink and on the other rink no adult league games begin before 8 p.m. (on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday). Some of the adult ice times go as late as 11:50 p.m.

One of the biggest concerns I heard from hockey stakeholders was the provision of early morning ice slots on weekdays. Many that I spoke with referred to these time slots as “unusable”. Through my involvement in raising these concerns with administration The City was able to work with Canlan to adjust the schedule to better accommodate youth hockey stakeholders

Here is a draft weekly schedule that was provided to me by Hockey Calgary in July:

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Here is a draft schedule that I received from Canlan a few weeks ago:

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In this draft schedule the early morning ice slots have been moved to better accommodate youth hockey.

As time goes on the scheduling may change but to state that Hockey Calgary is not currently being allocated prime ice time is inaccurate. The facts that have been presented to me show that Hockey Calgary’s current share of prime ice time is greater than other minor organizations or contract holders (for example, ringette and figure skating groups) or, Canlan’s adult hockey league.

It is also worth noting that scheduling ice around the city can be very fluid. Ice holders that are given allocations may return their ice to The City.  Here is a picture of how many times this has happened with Hockey Calgary alone over the last number of years:

2012 – 499 hours returned
2013 – 496 hours returned
2014 – 469 hours returned
2015 – 369 hours returned

It certainly is not good value for these ice slots to go un-used. Calgary Recreation offers some resources for these vacated ice slots to be rented. This can lead to some variations from week to week ice allocation as other stakeholders rent vacated ice slots.

The reality remains – Canlan is not only meeting the criteria established by The City, they are exceeding it. I am certainly going to continue to pass along feedback that I hear from hockey stakeholders, but at this time I am satisfied that there is compliance.

ADULT HOCKEY START TIMES

I have heard from some youth hockey stakeholders that they feel Canlan is setting a new precedent for preferential treatment towards adult hockey. From the information that I have been presented and that I shared above, I just do not see this as being true.

Here is the current breakdown for prime time ice (4p.m.-10p.m. weekdays, 7a.m.-10p.m. weekends) for Great Plains:

  • Minor hockey represents 71.6% of prime time ice (42% for Hockey Calgary, 29.6% for other minor associations); and,
  • Canlan programs 25.6% of prime time to ASHL and the remaining 2.8 per cent goes to adult contract holders.

ICE COSTS

I heard from some youth hockey stakeholders that the cost of ice at Great Plains is going to be prohibitive for youth hockey. It was alleged by one group that ice at Great Plains was $304 per hour which is 33% higher than their highest contract and 61% higher than their lowest contract.

Through my investigation, I have determined that this is not in fact accurate.

Just for some information – the rate for most ice in Calgary is based on a one-hour rental. If a booking was made for 1 hour, 60 minutes would be skating time with a 10 to 15 minute flood between bookings. In the case of Hockey Calgary, the majority of their bookings come in blocks of 3, 4 or 5 hours. With block bookings, the common industry practice is the actual time on the ice is reduced by the amount of time required for flooding.

While it may have been assumed that a flood cost is added on top of the hourly rate at Great Plains I have received information to the contrary. It turns out that the flood cost in this case is built directly into the hourly rate for the facility.

When we compare Great Plains to other rinks in Calgary, we need to make sure we are comparing apples to apples. The easiest way to do that is to breakdown the fees into an hourly rate. Here is a rough breakdown on how Great Plains stacks up against a few other kinds of facilities around Calgary:

City owned /partner operated facility (west Calgary): $264.60 per hour
Privately owned/privately operated facility (south Calgary): $270.00 per hour
Great Plains/Canlan (City owned/partner operated): $245.00 per hour

Great Plains comfortably fits somewhere closer to the middle of rates across Calgary.

OPERATING MODEL

Concerns have also been raised about a publically owned facility being operated by a for-profit organization.

There are a number of different kinds of operating arrangements for recreation facilities within Calgary:

  • Community rinks: these rinks are privately owned and operated. These facilities are not subsidized by taxpayers.
  • City owned, City operated: these facilities are built by The City, on City land and operated by The City. The revenues these facilities generate are typically not enough to sustain operations and these facilities are often heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
  • City owned, partner operated. Our partners could be for-profit (like Canlan) or non-profit (like the YMCA). The operators are bound by a comprehensive Public Use Policy: http://www.calgary.ca/CA/city-clerks/Documents/Council-policy-library/csps031-Public-Use-Policy.pdf. The City sets the rules and works with the operator to ensure that they are in compliance. If they are not in compliance, they do not get to operate the facility. In this type of agreement, the operator takes on all of the operational costs associated with running the facility. These are costs that would otherwise be on the backs of taxpayers.

Great Plains falls into the third category of operating agreement type. While we may not have control at the micro-level of scheduling, we certainly provide a macro set of rules. The only type of operating agreement where The City plays a role in schedule at the micro-level is in a City owned, City operated facility. In my mind, utilising third party operators for public facilities is a positive thing for taxpayers. The operating costs of many of our City owned and operated facilities can make them cost-prohibitive in some cases. If Great Plains was planned as a City owned, City operated facility instead of with an operating partner, I’m not convinced the facility would have been constructed in the first place.

In the case of Great Plains, Canlan is not only responsible for all of the operating and maintenance costs, they are also paying property taxes on a facility that they don’t own ($350,000 per year). The operator also needs to raise a significant amount of funds to furnish and decorate the facility. For some other facilities in Calgary this has been millions of dollars worth of fundraising.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The lack of recreation opportunities in southeast Calgary was one of the biggest reasons I first ran for Council in 2010. While the addition of Great Plains puts us in a better position today than a year ago, our communities are still underserviced. The opening of the Seton facility in 2018, operated by the YMCA, will add some additional capacity to our overstretched existing infrastructure.

There are demands for ice from a wide variety of stakeholder groups and therefore, individual stakeholder groups should not assume that the opening of a new facility means that they will get exclusive access to that facility. Groups like Hockey Calgary, Ringette Calgary, figure skating and even men’s hockey have a valid argument that they need more ice slots. The reality we face is that there is only so much ice to go around.

The allocation given to Hockey Calgary at Great Plains is consistent with the requirements we have of every other facility in Calgary as outlined in The City’s Public Use Policy. If community hockey associations are concerned with the ice allocations that they are getting from Hockey Calgary, that will need to be a conversation they take forward to them directly. I am committed to comparing notes with youth hockey organizations to ensure that the information I have been provided is consistent with what they are experiencing at this facility.

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I appreciate there are some challenges we are facing but, this remains a good news story for southeast Calgary. Just because something is different does not automatically mean it is bad. I believe what we are doing with this facility not only serves the needs of users but, provides a cost effective way for The City to offer more recreation facilities to some of our fastest growing communities.