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St. Albert to write letter of support for ACA outdoor facility

"If they're prepared to try to do this without asking for a penny from the city, I do think it's worth the staff time it takes to write a letter."
Active Communities Alberta's project for a covered outdoor ice rink would be modelled after Toronto's first ever outdoor covered ice rink at Greenwood Park, pictured behind the skating path. SUPPLIED

Mayor Cathy Heron will be adding her signature to support Active Communities Alberta's (ACA) proposal to build an outdoor year-round recreation facility in St. Albert.

On March 1, city council voted for Heron to write a letter of support for ACA as the non-profit goes after government grant funding to finance the project. The motion passed in a 6-1 vote, with Coun. Natalie Joly against. 

Spanning between two to three acres, the year-round outdoor facility would have two concrete pads for arena ice or dryland sports. Dressing rooms, a place to warm up, staffing and a Zamboni to resurface the ice are all planned for the site. According to ACA, the project will be funded through sponsorships, grants and donations, not taxpayer dollars.

Matt Bachewich, ACA president, previously told council having a letter of support from the local municipality would bolster their applications for government grants. ACA has several letters of support from St. Albert Raiders Hockey Club, St. Albert Ringette and Alberta Hockey. 

"In this case, Active Communities is not asking for any money. They're not asking for any land at this point. All they're asking for is that the city support the project, just to let other levels of government know that if it was to be built here, we think it's a good idea," said Coun. Sheena Hughes. 

In the past, administration has provided letters of support to community organizations going after grant funding, but usually the project is reviewed and vetted first, according to background information provided in the council agenda. 

Heron asked questions about whether to add conditions into the letter, like clarifying that the city would only support the project if it was built on private land, which Hughes said wasn't necessary given ACA was simply asking for support to have the project move forward. If they want to build on city land, they would have to go through the proper channels, she said.

"There haven't been too many organizations that have come forward to say they're going to build a new project with outside funding for it," she said. 

"If they're prepared to try to do this without even asking for a penny from the city, I do think it's worth the staff time it takes to write a letter."

If ACA wants to build the facility on city-owned land, deputy chief administrative officer Kerry Hilts said the process would take two to three years. With plans to open the facility by this fall, ACA previously told council they were working with private land owners on potential locations. 

Joly said she agreed that St. Albert needs ice space, and having an organization provide that at no cost to taxpayers is an "ideal situation." However, she said she did not support writing the letter.

Coun. Ray Watkins said he would support the motion "100 per cent." Unlike their previous attempt, ACA is now trying to bring a facility to St. Albert without using taxpayer dollars. Writing a letter of support is "pretty simple," he said.

"They probably have no choice but to look at private land right now. They've spent a ton of time, they've got the money, they've got citizens willing to kick in half-a-million bucks ... and we're fiddling around saying we can't write them a letter of support."

Heron voted to write the letter, but she said she encouraged ACA to participate in the public process for what the city wants to see happen in the northwest. This year, the city will begin a $500,000 high-level concept plan for the new campus amenities site.

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