Council gives Arnaitok arena a one-year reprieve

City looks for corporate sponsors to keep rink open



Hockey players will be able to shoot slap shots at the net at Iqaluit’s Arnaitok Ipeelie arena for at least another year.

After listening to emotional pleas from hockey players, coaches, skaters and longtime Iqaluit residents during a public meeting on Monday, Iqaluit city council decided on Tuesday to hold off on its plans to shut down the city’s oldest hockey rink.

Council agreed to spend $300,000 this year to keep the Arnaitok arena open and will look at raising user fees and finding corporate sponsors to fund it after 2003.

Iqaluit city council had been considering closing the more than 30-year-old Arnaitok arena after the city got an NHL-size rink for the Arctic Winter Games this year.

The cost of running two arenas was putting extra pressure on the city’s already-limited budget, council argued.

“Money is a definite concern,” Mayor John Matthews told citizens gathered at the June 24 public meeting.

The arena’s users, mainly hockey teams, pay a total of $45,000 a year in user fees. But most of the sports that were once played at the Arnaitok arena are now played at the new arena, leaving Arnaitok with about $30,000 a year in revenue.

Council asked the public if the $300,000 the city puts into the arena each year should be spent instead on repairing facilities, paving more roads or building new community facilities.

But the answer was a resounding no.

Hockey players, skaters and coaches criticized council at the public meeting for even considering shutting down the recreational facility.

Glenn Higgins, president of the Iqaluit Amateur Hockey Association, was disgusted council would put a dollar figure on such an important activity in the community.

“You say it will cost $300,000 to keep the arena open. Well, I’m not willing to put a price tag on saving kids’ lives. I don’t doubt that hockey cuts suicides,” Higgins said, as the audience erupted into applause.

Many of the 40 residents who came out to the meeting rallied the council to keep the two arenas running.

“I don’t understand even considering cutting something out when the demand has to be bigger,” Siobhan Moss said. With Iqaluit’s population taking off and expected to reach about 12,000 in 20 years’ time, the number of hockey players and speed skaters will likely increase as well, Moss argued.

One after another, hockey coaches came forward to tell council the number of kids playing the sport is on the rise. Higgins pointed to minor hockey, which has 160 players this season – a 15-per-cent increase from last year.

Two arenas could accommodate the growing hockey league, permit recreational skaters more ice time and allow Iqaluit to put on larger hockey tournaments, Higgins said. It could also mean the city could once again host the Arctic Winter Games.

“In a nutshell, two arenas is a no-brainer,” he told council.

Many people wanted the arena saved because Arnaitok’s downtown location is closer to many of the residents who use it. Using the new arena involves travelling across town.

The mayor then pitched the idea of providing a shuttle bus that would transport children to the new arena.

That suggestion didn’t sit well with Higgins.

“I think the transportation would solve some of the concerns of kids getting to and from the arena at the top of town. But by no means should that be a kind of trade off to closing the arena,” he said angrily.

The following night at the city council meeting, there was little question about what to do with the old arena.

The mayor and councillors agreed Arnaitok’s doors will remain open for another year. They will then consider increasing user fees and getting corporate sponsorship to run the arena for additional years, council said.

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