LISTOWEL – The fate of the Listowel Memorial Arena has been decided, and it’s one that North Perth council acknowledges not all residents will like.
Council voted unanimously on Nov. 25 to proceed with the demolition of Listowel Memorial Arena, a decision that has been months in the making.
“This has been a project that has been studied for the better part of 2019,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg. “I know this is a momentous and important decision that our community is expecting, and we know that whatever we decide with this decision will not please everyone, but will help our community going forward.”
Council was presented with three options to choose from: Building demolition and re-purpose the property; maintain the facility for municipal and community programs and events; or building demolition and sale of a portion of the property.
These three options were recommended by the Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC).
During North Perth’s budget visioning session on Oct. 22, it was recommended to council that a decision on the fate of the arena be made by the end of the year.
Council agreed to do so, noting that their decision would have implications on the 2020 budget.
Amy Gangl, interim recreation manager for North Perth, addressed council prior to the vote and spoke of the amount of public engagement that was done for the issue, including open houses and surveys. Many options for the future of the building were presented by the public.
“The options are endless and varied,” she said. “RAC would like to remind council of their request to keep in mind the memorial aspect of the area, the needs for parking in the area, and budgetary implications of how you decide to proceed.”
Kasenberg asked council if there were any options outside of the three presented that they would like to discuss, which drew no response from council.
Kasenberg encouraged all members of council to state their opinions on the matter before voting.
“I really think it would be useful to hear from everyone,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Doug Kellum was the first to speak, calling this decision the biggest and most important one he’ll make as a member of council.
“This is likely the largest decision and most sensitive that I’ll have to make in my years of service with North Perth,” he said. “It’s not going to be the right decision for everyone, but a decision has to be made. I would like North Perth to stay in control of the property. I’d like the Friends of ‘59 to be recognized. So, my decision is for option No. 3.”
Coun. Matt Richardson spoke next, agreeing with Kellum. The councillor said that the memorial aspect of the arena needs to be front and centre.
“An appropriate memorial needs to be in place for that,” he said.
Richardson acknowledged that there is a lot of re-purposing that can be done with the building, but doesn’t believe it is a responsible use of funds.
“We just built a new recreation facility because of some of the deficits that the old arena was having,” he said. “That was one of the reasons we went to a new facility. I don’t feel putting good money into that very old facility is beneficial.”
Richardson said he supports demolishing the building, as that would give North Perth continued control of the property and allow them to dictate what the land is used for in the future, including a memorial of some sort.
Coun. Matt Duncan agreed with the previous sentiments of council.
“We definitely have to maintain the memorial aspect for the property,” he said.
He said he was torn between demolishing the building and re-purposing the property and demolishing the property and selling a portion of the land.
“If option three said demolition of the building and potential sale of the property, I would support it,” he said.
Coun. Dave Johnston stated his support for the third option, saying it would give the municipality the opportunity to revitalize the area.
“It’s going to help the Legion, it going to help the ballpark, parking, the curling club,” he said.
“Once again, we know we are going to maintain a memorial through all of this. That’s been made clear through every discussion we’ve had.”
Coun. Julie Behrns stated that she believes the first and third options are essentially the same.
“Re-purposing the property could be the sale of a portion of the property,” she said. “I’m only reading two options… I am OK with one or three.”
Coun. Terry Seiler said the memorial aspect of the property is very important in his books, as it is for other members of council, and said that environmental aspects of demolishing the arena will need to be looked at. Control of the property, he said, is very important.
“Having control of the property, what we can do with the property, is very important to our municipality,” he said.
Seiler expressed his support for option three.
Coun. Neil Anstett also supported option three, citing the importance of the memorial aspect and keeping control of the property.
“Option three for me, in my vision – and it is just my vision – would see a memorial, something similar to what they did in Walkerton for the lives that were lost as part of the Walkerton (water) tragedy that happened in 2000.”
Coun. Lee Anne Andriessen said she is on the same page as the rest of her colleagues.
“I echo all of the comments that have been made here tonight,” she said.
Both Andriessen and Seiler expressed concern about the environmental issues that may arise from demolishing the building, however CAO Kriss Snell stated that those issues are nothing that hasn’t been dealt with in the past.
“It’s not unusual, we go through that process (environmental site assessment) all of the time,” he said.
Coun. Allan Rothwell also supported option three, and thanked council for the amount of public feedback and consultation that was done ahead of this decision being made.
“Being on that site and being able to the see the options available firsthand… was very important,” he said. “As the (Recreation Advisory) Committee found out, this building is of significant memory to many people… Although the building itself, under option three, is going to be going, the fact the Friends of ‘59 have been very vocal and supportive about wanting to work with the municipality to incorporate a memorial on that site is crucially important.”
Rothwell also stated that everyone recognizes the need to move forward.
“We need to move forward, knowing full well that we have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Kasenberg stated that he is concerned about selling a portion of the land, specifically the eastern portion, for housing.
“I find that unnecessary,” he said.
Kasenberg said his first choice is option one – demolishing the building and re-purposing the property – however he would be able to live with option three.
“(Option one) would give us full control of that property and allows us to develop that land in a way that is appropriate for continued municipal use; a play area for hockey, basketball, soccer, different things that housing would probably eliminate by putting housing on a portion of that area.”
Council came to a consensus to combine options one and three into a new motion that would see council proceed with the process of the demolition of the Listowel Memorial Arena and a site redevelopment plan be constructed for council’s consideration.
The motion, moved by Richardson and seconded by Rothwell, passed unanimously.
Following the council meeting, Gangl told reporters that a lot of work went into this decision.
“Certainly, the public will be happy on one level that council has made a decision, but a tough decision regardless of whatever it is they decided,” she said. “I truly believe that staff, the public, council all considered people from our past, those in our present and services to those in our future when they made this decision.”
Gangl said the memorial aspect of the property spoke volumes in the public input sessions and in the feedback received.
“That is something that everyone heard loud and clear,” she said. “I would say that even all of those individuals felt it themselves and wished it themselves. However, that looks, that was first and foremost and that was voiced tonight in council of what is most important.”
Gangl said the immediate next steps in this process will be staff looking at what needs to be done for the demolition of the Listowel Memorial Arena, doing all of the surveys and assessments required for demolition, then allowing the public and council to have input into what the redevelopment of the property looks like.
“(We want to ensure) that all of those voices and concerns are being met in that redevelopment plan,” she said, noting that includes the Friends of ‘59. “We wouldn’t want to push anything on them, but we certainly want them to have a message that we really respect their input to make sure this vision of the memoriam is something that will fit all.”