Smaller facilities one option being looked at, says interest-group member
The recent news of the denial of public-private partnership (P3) funding from Private-Public Partnerships Canada was not only a shock to city officials, but also to the citizens who have spent countless hours on committees for proposed recreation centres in Calgary's southeast and northwest quadrants.
"From a community point of view, we are disappointed with the outcome," said Douglas Ratke, secretary for the South East Calgary Recreation Society.
Agreeing with that sentiment, Warren Whissell, spokesperson for the DouglasdaleGlen Community Association, said: "We are very disheartened by this whole fiasco. It is a fiasco."
While not a member, Whissell said the South East Calgary Recreation Society was formed to represent communities wanting a recreation centre in the southeast quadrant.
However, despite the disheartened feelings around the P3 announcement, there is some optimism that there's still a future for the proposed facilities.
"We actually had a couple of plans that we were floating around in the event that the government did not approve," Ratke said, adding that the South East Calgary Recreation Society "has a plan B, a C and a D that we are looking at as far as moving forward."
Some of these options involve developing each site with the infrastructure that was in place around it, or developing smaller facilities, Ratke said.
City council carried a motion Dec. 5 directing bureaucrats to look at alternative funding methods on a basis that, as Ward 2 Ald. Gord Lowe said, "We're on our own."
For example, one option could be to tap into the city's Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding from the province.
"I think what we have to do in the next few months is decide exactly how we'll move forward, rather than if," said Ward 12 Ald. Shane Keating, who seconded Lowe's motion.
Lowe said that a report for council would be ready no later than the end of March.
On Nov. 25, the City of Calgary received news that their application for P3 funding to help pay for the recreation centres — up to $99 million — had been denied by the federal government.
The estimated tab for all four proposed centres -- one in the northwest just outside Rocky Ridge and Royal Oak, with the other three in the developing southwest communities of Quarry Park, Seton and Great Plains -- total between $400 and $430 million, according to the City of Calgary website.
Ward 1 Ald. Dale Hodges said, "[The federal government is] trying to claim that the recreational facilities were never part of the P3 program, but in fact it is stated within the program that recreation facilities can be funded from that program." The proposed site for the northwest facility is in Hodge's ward.
Ratke also pointed out that up until recently, recreation was one of the areas of funding on the P3 website.
"The P3 site actually listed that recreation was one of the agreed-upon funding areas, and then it mysteriously disappeared from the website," Ratke said.
Greg Melchin, Private-Public Partnerships Canada chair, told CBC News on Nov. 28 that the federal government was responsible for the seemingly sudden denial of funding.
From the South East Calgary Recreation Society's point of view, the group had no reason to believe that the application would be denied.
"Everything that we have seen or heard indicated that it was a go," said Ratke. "Basically it was just a matter of time before the announcement actually came out.
"Everyone had been telling us all along, 'You know it's coming, it's coming and it's coming,' and then they tell us, 'Sorry, it's been denied.'"
Calgarians are also taking to the blogosphere to express their displeasure with the P3 funding decision, even creating an online petition for the funding to be restored.
Southeast Calgary 'under-serviced'
The announcement has affected Calgarians living in the southeast areas.
"The southeast quadrant is a 'has-not' quadrant," Whissell said. "We don't have the LRT, and now after investing so much time and effort (to get a recreation centre), the rug has been pulled from our feet.
"[The] Douglasdale and Douglas Glen communities do not have a recreation centre. It's unbelievable. Most communities have a rec centre.
"We have people who call our hotline asking if we can rent [out] the hall, and they don't believe me when I tell them that we don't have a hall. All we have is two rink shacks, that's it," Whissel added.
Ratke said: "We had seen studies that were given to us that southeast Calgary is one of the fastest, if not main fastest growing quadrant in the entire city of Calgary. And yet, there is not one decent facility."
"The demand is far outweighing the supply right now," Ratke said.
Ald. Keating, whose ward is home to the proposed Quarry Park and Seton facility sites, said, "The southeast is extremely under-serviced in many ways, and recreation is just one of those."
He said that the recreation centres would service up to 440,000 people. Out of that number, "84,000 children between the ages of zero to 14 still have to drive great distances to get to a site."
Ratke said: "I don't think we have come so far as to simply say, 'Done, finished.' It's just a matter of what will be the decision and how to go forward."
Ald. Hodges said that despite wasting two years of time and money applying for the funding — $3.1 million, according to the mayor's office — he was still optimistic that there could be funding elsewhere.
The South East Calgary Recreation Society plans to push forward despite the government announcement.
"It's a little bit of a setback, but we are not looking at it as a defeat," said Ratke. "It's onward and upward. We know [the recreation centres] were needed before, regardless of what the government decided what they wanted to do."