Civic Plaza on thin ice: City sinking money into a duplicate downtown ice rink

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Machine Shop Ice Rink Wide
Machine Shop Ice Rink

The city and designer of the new downtown Civic Plaza held two public meetings to get input for their competing space at the plaza.

During the first meeting, Tony Porco the owner of the Machine Shop joined in the consultation. He asked Colin Berman a lead designer from BrookMcIlroy if he was aware of who he was.

“No,” said Berman.

Porco is about 60 percent done an outdoor rink at his location. He stated in the meeting it’s in co-operation with the Economic Development Corporation and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

“I don’t know if you know but this is an NOHFC project and the EDC as a partner. So they are fully aware of what I’m doing and how much money I’m spending there,” said Porco. “I think I’m spending more than what you guys are and the city.”

He noted the Machine Shop is already a destination for people to come to and he already hosts the events the city wants to do away from the waterfront.

The Festival of Trees brings about 12,000 people to his riverfront property. He hosts the Winter Carnival which everyone else left “high and dry.” He questioned why the city didn’t put his property on the waterfront in the plan.

“Why not build it where we are? Why build a rink that has no parking at all, I don’t even know how it got past the city. (Why) build it downtown when not even a kilometre away we’re there?” asked Porco. “The city has spent five million of taxpayers money already for our site, which was agreed too by NOHFC … I see it as competition.”

Tom Vair, Deputy CAO, Community Development and Enterprise Services with the city did his best to explain why they don’t see a second ice rink as competition to the private sector investment in the community.

“One of the key things to help revitalize downtown, that we heard from Roger Brooks, and we’ve seen in other communities is this type of Plaza space, right on your commercial strip,” said Vair. “Our site’s not going to be for hockey, I know you’re putting in boards, you want to have three on three tournaments, you want to do all that our stuff is more our rink is more related to the casual skater people with kids just going around to skate.”

Porco was quick to remind the city his property is on the riverfront, just because it will be enclosed doesn’t mean it isn’t open skating.

He notes the money for the plaza could easily be put toward other ice infrastructure projects like the McMeeken Centre. That replacement is set at over $27 million and currently has no outside funding.

In the end, a visibly emotional Porco just wants to understand why not build it on the national historic site with him in the canal district and bring the same target audience there.

“We’re going to have free skating all the time, it is for the public,” said Porco.

So the outstanding questions still remain. Why are taxpayers taking another estimated $6.6 million hit during a pandemic and why does the city feel like a second, taxpayer-funded ice rink is necessary when a private investor is building basically the same thing, within a kilometre?

14 COMMENTS

  1. Did it ever occur to anyone that many people do not care for Mr. Porco’s property and would much prefer to spend their time downtown?

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  2. Mr Porco is like the new godfather of Sault Ste. Marie. Tell the city what to do and he got what he wants too. The tour train, the bon soo, the ice rink to his collection in his mansion ( property) soon the bus terminals adjacent to his property and many more to his properties and get funded by tax payer. Must be nice. The downtown will be blank and everything will move to his property and if he don’t like or don’t make money for him he will push away ( ex..farmer’s market) . The city plaza should go ahead according to plan.. is our tax payer money and to boost Downtown . Downtown needs this kind of activity and bring back the bon soo to where it was before and more. I rest my case.

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  3. the issue here is private versus public. Mr. Porco is operating a private entity, and its very likely that the “free skating” will last a short period of time to satisfy the stipulations on the free money this millionaire seems to get from he government all the time, yet small business gets a very small amount of grant and the rest loans when we apply for support. The city’s concept is to provide free access, and to revitalize the downtown core on city owned property, not on private property where the owner at any time could change the rules (which he will as he is a business man, dont be fooled!, and people in business are in business to make money not to be charitable. Although the machine shop and surrounding areas are wonderful spaces, they are PRIVATE, and we need more municipally owned facilities. the pavilion for instance, is a great venue that is underutilized…

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  4. I totally agree with Mr. Porco on duplication. It makes absolutely no sense to build a splashpad and rink at the civic plaza location. A splash pad is a recreational feature that should remain at Bellevue Park The indoor ice rink location that Mr. Porco has invested in is another recreational feature. Both of those concepts for the plaza are duplications with no real innovation for the downtown. The plaza is intended to bring people to the downtown and inspire locals and tourists to gather, enjoy and shop within the downtown core. I like the media staging area and possibly a grotto with waterfalls. A well designed water feature will bring people to the downtown. European plazas are built and centered around shops and businesses. They also have wonderfull fountains and water features.Such a central design concept will attract gatherings. The loss of our waterfront fountain is noticeable and should be the focal point of the downtown plaza. Do not indulge duplication.
    Civic Plaza on thin ice: City sinking money into a duplicate downtown ice rink | SaultOnline.com

    • Did you not read the entire article? It stated, “”in co-operation with the Economic Development Corporation”
      Meaning the city helped fund Porco.

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  5. What’s wrong with this city council.. they raise taxes buy kind with no plan. Took us how long to tell the city we need a waterpark. Great park to bring alive again .. telling one of our rinks to cancel a double rink because of funding . Now overlooking a cost we already spending and doing. Why is this happening?

    • Realistically speaking the downtown plaza is a poorly thought out venture.
      Fancy lighting? The city still can’t figure out how to get those 6 light ‘sticks’ at Queen & Bruce.
      If this venture will attract the carloads of people the city claims, where will people park? Downtown parking is already bad at best.
      The city’s budget can’t afford to properly maintain the parks we currently have, it’s embarassing.
      The city buildings are falling into various states of disrepair and user fees are high.
      The business owners downtown & DTA are sick & tired of the ever increasing crime, vandalism & vagrancy – and for them to openly admit this speaks volumes. This plaza will certainly not stop that crime, drug use, etc. This is another “monorail” moment for SSM.
      Failing to address, and ignoring, the root causes of the problems downtown is irresponsible and foolish.
      You can’t just slap lipstick on a pig and expect the problems to disappear.
      The city is effectively broke, tourism is dropping, overdoses & crime are increasing exponentially, families are moving away (mine included), the city is in a near-constant state of recession and we’re in a global pandemic where social gatherings are either discouraged or banned outright and this is just the beginning with no clear end in sight. For the city to drop millions (and the cost just keeps going up) is a poorly planned, poorly thought and poorly timed idea.
      Regrettably I’ve had enough with the ineffective management and downward trend of Sault Ste Marie. Next year I’m closing my business and moving my family out of here. Giving my 10 employees a year’s notice to be fair.

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  6. Realistic answer? They probably didn’t bother asking anyone that might be remotely opposed to it. Anyone that opposes these feel good ideas is a negative nancy. The city has tunnel vision with its pet initiatives.

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    • You certainly have the correct point of view. The Sault is nothing but a running joke.No direction but a lot of money spent on consulting fees for just about everything. What exactly is there in the Sault to attract tourism?Nothing worth anything to speak of. I left the Sault thirty five years ago and have no desire to ever return. It has denigrated itself to nothing less than the armpit of Ontario.

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