Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands to have set contribution for Gananoque arena

The Lou Jeffries Town of Gananoque & TLTI Recreational Centre

The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands council has voted to establish a set amount for a financial contribution in its cost-sharing agreement with Gananoque over the Lou Jeffries Arena.

Councillors made the unanimous decision during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting in Lansdowne.

Council could have voted to end the cost-sharing agreement entirely, however, there wasn’t much appetite for that option.

There was also consideration for a deferral of the matter, with a motion put forward to do so by Coun. Mark Jamison. However, that motion was defeated, with even Jamison himself ultimately losing interest in the idea.

Choosing to establish a set amount for a financial contribution, chief administrative officer Stephen Donachey said, now leads to township staff beginning the discussion with Gananoque officials on what they foresee for operating costs going forward.

This allows the township to stay away from having, as Donachey termed it, Groundhog Day every year, “where it’s ‘what’s the number this year?’”

The Lou Jeffries Arena, as it is commonly known, is officially called the Lou Jeffries Gananoque and TLTI Recreation Centre. It has been serving the residents of the township, Gananoque and area since 1973.

The facility is owned, maintained, and operated by Gananoque. In addition to the indoor ice surface, dressing rooms and spectator stands, the facility also offers a rentable meeting/banquet hall and a canteen.

The township has had a longstanding cost-sharing arrangement with Gananoque, whereby the township contributes 50 per cent funding to budgeted operating and capital costs.

Concerns have been raised about the path forward for the arena and the increasing contributions made by the township to the operation of the aging facility. Since 2017, the township’s annual contribution to Gananoque has increased by 86.5 per cent.

Gananoque has indicated that the township’s continued financial support is critical to ensuring the arena remains open.

Council directed staff to report on the status of the arena and options for the township.

Staff returned with three options.

The first was to establish a set amount for a financial contribution that is acceptable to council, with an annual increase allowance. An agreement could be set with Gananoque for a four-year term (being mid-term for the next council) at which point the contribution would be reviewed and any proposed adjustment be subject to council’s approval.

The second was to continue with the status quo, where each year Gananoque estimates the annual operating costs for the arena to be split equally, plus an additional contribution toward planned capital expenditures.

And the third was to terminate the township’s financial contribution to the arena, either at the expiry of the current Recreation Cost Sharing Agreement (RCA) or by a gradual phase-out over a set number of years.

In staff’s report, an informal survey of 32 arenas/community centres in Eastern Ontario shows the oldest building is 72 years old (Kingston Memorial Centre), the two newest are under one year old (Aliane Chartrand in Prescott and Mat-te-Way in Renfrew).

The average age of the facilities surveyed is 42 years. At 50 years old, the Lou Jeffries Arena is not considered an outlier in terms of age for a municipal arena.

Gananoque completed a building condition assessment of the arena in 2021, and developed a resulting capital expenditure plan.

Staff from the township and Gananoque have reviewed the capital expenditure plan, which spans the period from 2021 to 2060 and reflects that the building can be maintained to 2060 with no changes to the current footprint and amenities.

While the yearly capital expenditures fluctuate over each year, the average annual requirement for capital is $133,260.75. All amounts in the plan are shown in 2021 costs, so expenses will vary as time passes.

In 2023, the township and Gananoque formed the Lou Jeffries Arena Working Group, whose members are the municipalities’ mayors and key senior staff members.

In addition to several meetings, the working group hosted a meeting with arena user groups to have a dialogue about the facility. The user groups provided insights from a customer perspective and indicated that they are engaged and willing to help keep the arena.

Though it’s an oversimplification of the relationship, it’s fair to look at the current cost-sharing agreement between the two municipalities as the township paying another vendor, Donachey said.

“We’re kind of contracting our arena use to Gananoque,” Donachey said. “They own the asset, and they’ll manage it. How they want to do the capital, what needs to be done in particular years, that’s really something they should be deciding on among themselves. We’re just in it to contract out like we’re paying another vendor, almost.”

Coun. Brian Mabee said he supports the Lou Jeffries Gananoque and TLTI Recreation Centre.

“I am fully (in support) of another year extension,” said Mabee, before following up by questioning what the surcharge would be to users of the arena who are residents of TLTI if the township dropped out from the cost-sharing agreement.

Coun. Angela Kelman said staff’s report on this matter raised concerns for her. One was the emphasis put on the survey.

“I thought that the survey was really flawed in terms of the way it was marketed and in terms of the wording of the some of the questions,” said Kelman. “I think we shared the survey once on our township’s website. It wasn’t made clear what the intent of the survey was.”

While staff noted the response to the survey was high overall, only 38 per cent of respondents were from TLTI. That’s fewer than 300 respondents.

“So, I’m wary to make a decision based on, again, such a small percentage of respondents from our township that is almost a population of 10,000,” said Kelman.

Later on, Kelman did vote in favour of option one – setting an amount for a financial contribution that is acceptable to council

Deputy Mayor Terry Fodey said the working group formed between the town and township could consider speaking to the City of Kingston on the matter.

“I think this working group needs to reach out to places like the City of Kingston, which is right there,” said Fodey, who has continuously voiced his backing for the Lou Jeffries arena.

“And they’re growing. They’re not growing anymore toward Lake Ontario than we are growing north, so we need to reach out to Kingston and see if there’s any value to them to jump in with us and put a sports complex somewhere in proximity. It seems like a pipe dream, but when you look at the numbers to sustain, the next four years the numbers add up to $707,000 to keep the arena (in Gananoque) as is. That’s barring nothing surprising happening.”

Gananoque Deputy Mayor Vicki Leakey, who lived in the township for 47 years, spoke from the gallery and encouraged the two municipalities to continue to work together on a solution.

“There’s no borders around us,” said Leakey. “The township hugs the town of Gananoque. If we could bring other revenue in, if we could bring in more users, more user fees, that’s less revenue required from either township or town. We can do this. I’m positive there’s good things to come.”

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