Arena loan rejected
Plebsicite lost, but need for new ice surface remains
by Richard Gleeson
NNSL (Apr 17/98) - Ratepayers turned out in record numbers Wednesday to deliver a resounding No to the city's request for permission to borrow $2.8 million to build a new twin-pad arena.
The vote laid to rest, at least temporarily, the most divisive issue in the community over the last year.
"The people have spoken, and what they've said is 'no arena now,'" said Yellowknife Mayor Dave Lovell.
"The other thing is, we do need another ice surface, and Gerry Murphy isn't going to last forever," said Lovell. "I think within the next 10 years there will be two new ice surfaces in Yellowknife."
Members of the Yellowknife property owners association, which has opposed the twin arena, witnessed all of the voting as scrutineers. At about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, association president Matthew Grogono reported the voter turnout had already surpassed the 10 per cent normally attracted by borrowing plebiscites.
There were few as disappointed with the result as Ter Hamer, who has led the charge for a new arena, but Tamer said he has not given up yet.
"My late son said two deuces beats an ace, and we still have a deuce left," said Hamer. "I'm meeting with our key people Monday to discuss where we go from here."
Hamer, who scrutinized ballot-counting, said it became obvious "right from the start" which way the vote was going to go.
"In many respects I feel we lost the media war," he said. "We clearly didn't have the reporters on side, and I'm talking about your paper. The press throughout has been very anti-city. In many respects I think the vote wasn't so much anti-arena as anti-city, for whatever reason."
Grogono agreed, but took Hamer's analysis one step further, saying the vote shows councillors who supported the project, particularly the mayor and Ald. Bob Brooks, are out of touch with ratepayers.
"A lot of people feel there's only one honorable thing for (Lovell and Brooks) to do -- put their seats up for re-election," said Grogono, who lost last year's mayoral election to Lovell by six votes.
Hamer said the issue is far from settled for arena users, who must still cope with an ice time shortage.
Ald. Cheryl Best, chairman of the committee that has advised council on the arena issue, said the city will need to take a long hard look at Gerry Murphy Arena.
Best said city council will likely be authorizing a study of the condition of the arena, built in 1950, and options for it.
Though decisive, the vote leaves unanswered the question of what, exactly, ratepayers were saying No to -- the borrowing or building a twin-pad arena.
The question has come up before. Brooks, who predicted the Yes side would win with a two-thirds majority if there were a good turnout, said earlier this year that a No vote would mean ratepayers want the city to look for the money elsewhere.
Lovell said yesterday that may be a long search. "There's no magic pot of money," he said.
There is, however, the reserve fund the city has saved out of block funding for a new community centre complex.
It is likely from that fund that the $150,000 for the youth centre and $140,000 for the gymnastics club will come.
Lovell said both projects will likely go ahead in spite of the No vote.
"They're relatively small amounts, and we've been putting away $500,000 a year out of block funding," said the mayor. "I'm sure we can fund them out of that."
Best concurred with members of the public who said including funding for the youth centre and gymnastics club in the plebiscite was a way of blackmailing people who opposed the arena into voting for it.
The tab for the arena was $9 million, while the city was considering contributing a comparatively paltry $290,000, all of it to be borrowed, to the other two projects.
Best saw including the smaller items on the plebiscite as a form of "coercion."
"This council inherited the project and a lot of us felt right from the beginning we were on a train going down the tracks."