The Hollingsworth Arena’s sole NHL-sized ice pad is slated to be shut down in April 2020.
At the April 8 committee of the whole meeting, Newmarket council moved to accept a staff report recommending the aging Patterson Street facility be decommissioned after the 2019/2020 season.
What’s to become of the 45-year-old building won’t be known for at least six months, when staff is expected to bring back to council suggestions on its future use.
The closure of the 57-seat arena, which is in need of about $1 million in repairs over the next five years would, ultimately, result in a net savings of about $67,000 annually.
That, and a steady decline generally over the last decade in indoor ice pad use by community sports groups and others were cited as reasons for shutting down the arena.
Losing Hollingsworth brings Newmarket’s active ice pads to six, including four at the Magna Centre and two at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex.
The Hollingsworth Arena — whose future has long been a subject of debate — sits on one parcel of town-owned land, while developer Briarwood Development Group owns the remaining two properties that make up the site, located in the Huron Heights neighbourhood off Davis Drive.
Even though Briarwood has not yet made a formal application to the town to build on its land, it presented a development proposal at an informal community meeting in February that would involve the purchase of the arena land.
For at least the past three years, the town has considered selling the Hollingsworth Arena property. It has also explored public-private partnerships to keep the property for community use with little success.
But the decision to close an ice pad is not one that is made lightly, community services commissioner Ian McDougall said Monday in council chambers.
“There’s been a lot of changes in (ice pad) use over the years we’ve been tracking it, since the opening of the Magna Centre in 2007,” McDougall said. “Since that time, there’s been quite a change in demographics in Newmarket. An aging population … as well as the ethnicity in the community is changing, which does impact the types of recreation activities that are occurring.”
For example, only 1,100 hours were rented out of a possible 1,650 during the last season at Hollingsworth, recreation and culture director Colin Service said.
“There’s really only about 15 hours a week that all seven ice pads are currently used right now," Service said, of the coveted prime time hours between 6 and 9 p.m.
Councillor Jane Twinney, in whose ward the arena is located, said talking about closing a community arena is an emotional thing. She did a survey among about 200 residents and found that about 80 per cent of respondents have used the arena in the past but not anymore, even though they had an emotional connection to it.
About 75 per cent of those Twinney surveyed said they would like to see the facility offer other types of recreation and use for the community.
“I think it’s time (to decommission it) and I do support that this is the right move,” she said, adding the recommendation that staff explore other potential future uses of the land.
Twinney also received correspondence from the Newmarket Jets Speed Skating Club, a local group that is bucking the trend by showing strong growth. That group is concerned its continued expansion may be inhibited if it loses the two prime-time evening bookings it now has at Hollingsworth.
“The reality is it might,” Service said. “We will have to be diligent about working with user groups to have a very fair allocation policy that doesn’t honour legacy as much as what is happening currently. One of the ways we’re able to help those user groups grow and be able to accommodate them within six ice pads is by making sure we’re not doing things because we’ve always done them, but because that’s what the real number of participants want.”
The town last week invited Newmarket’s 10 user groups in for a discussion on closing down the Hollingsworth Arena, including representatives from hockey, figure skating, speed skating and ringette clubs, a majority of whom attended.
“No group was happy with the concept of losing an ice pad,” Service said. “Every group expressed some level of concern that it would make it difficult for them to be accommodated for their prime times, but there was a general understanding of why the recommendations were being put forward.”
Newmarket Minor Hockey Association (NMHA) president Lynda Carusi, whose organization’s current home is the Hollingsworth Arena, said her organization would be “in trouble” if it gets shut down.
“We may be the town's biggest ice user, but all rinks are as valuable as the next to us all. We need to keep our kids involved in any sport,” she told NewmarketToday in a previous interview. “The NMHA isn't the only organization that relies on this rink.”
The staff report also recommended that changes to ice-pad programming be considered in light of the Hollingsworth Arena closure, and that the construction of a new outdoor ice pad be explored to coincide with Hollingsworth’s final season.
“With regard to a new outdoor ice pad, the next question would be where is it? What’s your answer to the public, would it be the Mulock Farm?” Councillor Kelly Broome said.
Council has approved the development of an outdoor ice pad, but the location hasn’t been determined yet, Service said.
Councillor Grace Simon said the town should run its buildings effectively and efficiently, and it’s clear the Hollingsworth Arena is at the end of its lifetime.
“Yes, we have lots of memories, but we’re looking forward to great revitalization for the Huron Heights area, especially. I’m really excited for the new to come in,” Simon said, adding it’s important to honour the Hollingsworth name on the building.
Mayor John Taylor and Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh said the town had success with closing the old arena downtown for the renewal of Riverwalk Commons.
“This is a facility that’s at the end of its life, it’s in very poor shape, it needs a considerable capital investment,” Taylor said. “We hear from the public all the time they want us to be very thoughtful, prudent and cautious with how we spend money. And this is an example of our staff leading us in this direction.
“But let’s be frank. This is partially related to a decision we have upcoming related to those lands, but we would be having this conversation in the next year or two no matter what,” Taylor added.
Vegh suggested a council workshop should be conducted to discuss the future use of the Hollingsworth Arena and land. During the 2018 municipal election, Vegh campaigned on redeveloping the Hollingsworth Arena into a new seniors centre and library.
As for user groups of Newmarket’s remaining six ice pads, a price break could be on the horizon for rentals during non-prime time hours. Currently, the town’s hourly rates for youth non-prime hours is $134 up to $180 for prime-time evenings. The adult non-prime-time hourly rate is $144, up to $292 in prime time.
Newmarket council has to ratify its decision at its next council meeting.