Leaside arena expansion clears funding hurdle

Skaters awaiting the construction of a new rink at Leaside Gardens could finally be getting more ice time, thanks to a budget boost from the province.

Work on the city’s first new ice rink in 35 years was due to be underway, but tenders received on Sept. 15 for the construction of a second rink at Leaside Gardens exceeded the anticipated $9.5 million tab, leaving the project at a standstill.

A new funding plan, proposed at a meeting of members of the arena expansion committee, city officials and representatives from Infrastructure Ontario on Nov. 16, could get construction back on track.

Paul Mercer, Chair of the Leaside Arena Expansion Committee, said while the city’s original loan of $7 million was not enough to cover building costs, both the city and the province have now stepped forward to bump up the expansion project’s budget.

“The city has a agreed to a number of measures that will strengthen the financing and reduce the project costs, and the province, through Infrastructure Ontario, has come to the table as an additional lender,” he said.

Details of the revised funding model are yet to be confirmed and the new plan will require approval by City Council at the budget meeting in January. In the meantime, Mercer said efforts by the Leaside community to meet their fundraising target of $2.5 million must be stepped up.

“Although fundraising efforts will continue after Jan. 15, it’s critical that we reach our original $2.5 million target by that date in order to get City Council approval and get a shovel in the ground as soon as possible,” he said.

The expansion project has currently received over 750 donations, totaling approximately $2.3 million, Mercer said. Naming opportunities for the arena have also been made available in the hope corporate support will increase. Charlene Kalia, Fundraising Chair, said that a number of local businesses are working to help the committee meet their final target, including Valumart, who are donating five dollars from the sale of every Christmas tree to the expansion project.

“We are going to rally the community,” she said. “It’s an exciting time for someone to come to the table and be our knight in shining armour (to) get us to that finish line before Jan. 15.”

While funding problems have inevitably delayed the arena’s completion, those involved in the project remain optimistic about it’s future.

“Clearly the project will not be completed by Sept. 2012 as we initially hoped,” Mercer said. “But we are making every effort to ensure that it will be open as soon after that date as possible.”

The Leaside Gardens Arena has the highest ice usage rate of any municipal area in Toronto. One hundred per cent of “prime-time” ice is fully booked, with 95 per cent devoted to youth non-competitive use by the Leaside Skating Club, the Leaside Hockey Association and the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association.

All three groups currently rent a large portion of their ice requirements from other municipal and commercial rinks, with many teams conducting almost none of their ice time at their “home” arena.