“I’ve always said, and the council for sure supports this, if we haven’t got the money, we’re not going to do it. We’ve said that we will build the best we can with whatever we’ve got.”
— Minnedosa Mayor Ray Orr, in May 2013
These words from Minnedosa’s mayor proved prophetic as the town’s regional events centre project will have to be vastly scaled back, following a feasibility study that called the proposal “not viable.”
The Minnedosa Regional Events Centre, when it was first proposed and a committee struck nearly five years ago to guide fundraising and design, was extraordinarily ambitious for a community of its size.
The initial project was to consist of an 80- to 100-room hotel with a water park — which was hoped to be built by the private sector — a pair of hockey arenas, a walking path, commercial spaces, some small conference rooms as well as a restaurant and lounge. Ultimately, the MREC was planned to be a 92,628-square-foot facility that, way back in 2011, was projected to cost $22 million.
Minnedosa’s current hockey arena, which needs extensive repairs, would require millions of dollars to upgrade in order to remain viable. The all-wood building was originally used as an air force hangar in another community before it was moved to Minnedosa and converted into a hockey arena in 1945. So time was of the essence.
But five years on, the 50-page feasibility study, which was commissioned by the Town of Minnedosa and released last month, has destroyed any remaining hope residents had of building a major destination facility within the community.
As the Sun reported yesterday, the study asked five questions regarding the feasibility of the project, and following analysis, it appears that four of the five tests of feasibility failed.
In its present form, “the proposed event centre is not viable, feasible or sustainable over the long-term,” the study read.
The executive summary states the local and regional market cannot support the facility, that the business plan is flawed, that there is no basis for assuming capital costs to pay for construction can be raised and further suggests the facility would operate at a deficit and require future public money.
No doubt this comes as a blow to supporters of the project, and there was a significant segment of the local population who wanted to see this project through.
There was also a highly vocal group of residents in the community that thought the whole idea was a waste of money from the beginning. In fact, a letter to the editor printed by The Minnedosa Tribune in January and written by “concerned taxpayer” Brian Stone was calling for heads to roll on town council because, he said, substantive public funds were wasted on the project. It also appeared to Stone that mayor and council were not heeding the study’s findings.
“Without question, Mayor Orr and the Minnedosa Town Council need to resign,” he wrote. “This kind of misuse of public funds and their disregard of common sense cannot be tolerated.”
Obviously Minnedosa is divided on this project, and there are some hard feelings that have come out of the process to build it. But the fact remains that Minnedosa is actually quite fortunate that community leaders have decided not go ahead with the construction of a facility that potentially could have bankrupt the town.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming big. But big dreams still must have a foot in economic realities. The problem now, becomes how to move forward.