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?