CBRM Council: We’re Not Selling Centre 200

Back in May of this year, District 8 Councilor James Edwards moved that council call for a staff Issue Paper on the pros and cons of selling Centre 200 and the Mayor and 10 councilors present that night (Councilors Paruch and O’Quinn were not there) approved it unanimously.

CBRM District 8 Councilor James Edwards

CBRM District 8 Councilor James Edwards

Writing this story is interesting, given the time I’ve spent lately reading about the battle to build Centre 200 in the first place and realizing that a municipality this size actually does need a facility like it. (It really hit home for me when I saw that the Mayor’s Bicentennial Levee on 1 January 1985 was being held in the gymnasium at Sydney Academy.)

Edwards reasoned that, since the facility cost the municipality roughly $1 million a year to operate, they should consider selling it to someone who could make it turn a profit.

Centre 200 Manager Paul MacDonald delivered the requested report during last night’s meeting but sadly, Edwards wasn’t there to hear it because he was on his way to Juno Beach (I don’t know who will have the heart to tell him he’s 78 years too late).

I’ll summarize what MacDonald had to say in a moment, but the key takeaway from last night’s discussion was that because council made it known publicly that it was considering a sale, the provincial and federal governments refused to give it the funds it was seeking for upgrades to the facility.

District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin apologized for having supported the May motion, saying she had simply wanted to put the issue to bed, but had she known it would cost the CBRM funding, she would never have approved it.

District 7 Councilor Steve Parsons, though, who seconded Edwards’ motion in May, was unapologetic, claiming it was an important exercise to have gone through even if it did mean the loss of funding.

 

Community asset

Paul MacDonald explained that in Canada, facilities the size of Centre 200 are generally owned by municipalities because private owners cannot book enough event nights to turn a profit.

He pointed out that while the facility does cost $1 million annually to operate, it serves the community in many ways, including, most recently, as a warming center during Hurricane Fiona.

Were CBRM to sell Centre 200 it would lose access to the facility for such purposes (including public meetings and during the peak of the COVID epidemic, council met in Centre 200) and ice time would likely become too expensive for local minor hockey teams. (I’m guessing we could kiss public skates good-bye too).

Funding announcement for Centre 200

On the “pro” side, MacDonald explained that when a mystery shopper expressed interest in buying Centre 200 back in 2018, staff had put its value (without the land) at $16 million and, were the CBRM to sell the facility, that $16 million “would be a recognized benefit,” as would the roughly $1 million a year it would save in operating costs. (Really, that might be enough to inspire District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger to introduce another tax cut.) But, MacDonald said, there was “no buyer in view” for the facility. (So much for all my speculation about Irwin Simon, owner of the Cape Breton Eagles.)

MacDonald said there’d be potential savings from staff reductions (Centre 200 has 12 full-time and up to 80 part-time staffers) but this would be offset by the fact that laid- off unionized employees would begin “bumping” other employees across the municipality. (District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald remarked that they’d actually experienced this in the past when they’d tried handing Centre 200 operations over to a private company and it was not something he seemed anxious to experience again.)

Paul MacDonald also pointed out that in 2018, the cost of replacing the facility was pegged at $37 million, but that in today’s market, that would probably be much higher. He said Moncton’s Avenir Centre, which opened in 2018, cost $113 million to build, suggesting replacing Centre 200 would cost between $80 and $100 million.

In the end, council voted not to sell the facility. In response to a question from Bruckschweiger, engineering and public works manager Wayne MacDonald said they would talk with the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs and then the federal government about their funding, adding they’d been rejected for federal money under the Green Inclusive Buildings Fund, but that there would be another call for applications soon.