City receives $44-million to build new rinks and aquatic centre

City of Prince Albert -- Herald file photo.

The Prince Albert Raiders won’t get a new rink, but the city will get funding for three major infrastructure projects thanks to an agreement with the federal and provincial governments.

The City of Prince Albert will receive $24 million from the federal government and roughly $20 million from the provincial government to build a new Aquatic and Arenas Recreation Centre. The city will chip in another $16 million, bringing the project’s total cost to roughly $60 million.

The announcement comes after the federal government declined a proposal to fund a new hockey rink that would have been used by multiple local organizations, including the Prince Albert Raiders.

Deputy Mayor Don Cody said the federal government encouraged the city to submit a different proposal after rejecting the previous one. He said the new project isn’t what they originally wanted, but it was still a fantastic development.

“Sometimes you have to take a part of a loaf rather than the full loaf,” Cody said during an interview Friday afternoon. “We’re pleased with what we’ve got. This is a very, very good start.”

The City of Prince Albert hasn’t decided on a location for the new facility, which will include two rinks and an indoor aquatics centre. Cody said they’re still negotiating a land deal and details won’t be released until it’s complete.

A design of the new facility won’t be available until next spring at the earliest, but Cody said that’s a very optimistic timeline.

“I would never want to be held to that (date), but at the same time, we’re going to try our level best to get construction up as quick as we can, because we’d like to get the centres going,” he explained.

While residents can look forward to the new facility going up, the agreement means a couple of other rinks will be coming down. The first one on the chopping block is Dave Steuart Arena, located on the Prince Albert Exhibition grounds.

Cody said the facility requires expensive upgrades and repairs, and the city would rather demolish it than pay for more work. The Kinsmen Arena on 28th Street is also up for consideration, however Cody said they haven’t made any final decisions.

“It’s a long-term plan we’re going to have, and it’s going to take us a little bit of time to ferret all that stuff out,” he said.

Back to the drawing board for new Raider rink

Although plans for a new rink for the Prince Albert Raiders are on hold, Cody said they haven’t been forgotten. Unfortunately, the city may have to go back to square one and come up with a new plan to secure part of the $120-million needed for the new rink.

“It’s not to suggest at all that we haven’t got our eyes on a new arena for the Raiders, that’s for sure,” Cody explained. “We know what the WHL’s command and/or demand is, and we’re going to do our level best … to give it serious consideration right as soon as we can.”

The City of Prince Albert has already paid for upgraded lighting in the Art Hauser Centre, and a new scoreboard will be in place for the start of the 2019-20 WHL season. Both upgrades are mandatory. The league says they will help address player safety and improve the fan experience.

A spokesperson for the Raiders said they were glad to see the city secure funding for a new recreation centre. He added that they were looking forward to meeting with all levels of government to discuss a new arena in the future, but no plans were in place at the moment.

Funding announcement puts federal-provincial dispute on hold

The funding announcement means tensions have cooled somewhat between the provincial and federal governments.

Premier Scott Moe blasted federal infrastructure minister François-Philippe Champagne on Twitter back in August after the federal government rejected the City of Prince Albert’s proposal for a new rink. Moe accused the federal government of playing politics with the issue, something Champagne denied, arguing that they rejected the proposal because the Prince Albert Raiders are considered a semi-pro hockey club.

Despite those disagreements, Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister and Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave said he was very pleased with Friday’s announcement.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for the city,” Hargrave said when contacted on Friday. “It’s going to be great for the citizens of Prince Albert, and the citizens living around Prince Albert and in the north.”

“We’re looking to attract more people into our city and this is just going to be another thing … to attract those new citizens,” he added. “A good aquatic centre is pretty hard to beat…. It’s going to be an extremely nice facility.”

Hargrave said it smoothed things over with the federal government “to some degree” but chose to focus more on the positives. He added that it will be up to the city to decide what’s next when it comes to building a new facility for the Raiders.

Champagne released a statement saying the government was proud to support the building of a new Aquatic and Arenas Recreation Centre in Prince Albert, and offered only one comment on Twitter.

“We promise and we deliver,” he wrote in a Tweet that tagged Twitter accounts belonging to Moe, MP Randy Hoback, Deputy Premier Gord Wyant, the City of Prince Albert and the Prince Albert Raiders. “Our govt is investing $28-million for the people of Sask to build two sport facilities in (Prince Albert) and in Southend. Together, let’s build healthier communities for all!”

The federal infrastructure announcement also included funds for the construction of a community ice rink for Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Southend.

With files from Lucas Punkari.