It didn’t take Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr long to realize that people don’t want bits of their city parks sold off to pay for dilapidated buildings or to solve parking problems.
Farr, and staff from the city planning and recreation departments held a meeting in November in the North End about the sorry condition of the Eastwood Park hockey arena. Farr floated a motion to sell off a portion of the park to pay for a projected $8 million in needed repairs to the “vintage” arena. Parcelling off a piece of the 14 acre Eastwood Park and “partnering” with a developer to build a parking garage or affordable housing project could be a way to finance arena upgrades Farr suggested.
The arena at Eastwood is the least used rink among the 20 the city operates according to Steve Sevor, Manager of Sports and Policy Allocation.
It’s old, and it’s cold (for fans in the bleachers) and it needs a new ice plant asap, then roofing and foundation work. While it’s underused, it’s important to note that hockey participation is declining across Hamilton and in fact across Canada. A survey by Hockey Canada and Bauer Hockey noted that 90 percent of families chose not to have their kids play. Reasons include cost, injury potential, time, and intense pressure to win.
About 50 people were at the meeting. As is usual for the North End, they got right to the point. “What did Dundas have to sell to get improvements at Grightmire arena?” one resident asked. A good question, and the answer was nothing.
I asked Farr if there was a precedent for selling parkland to raise money. He could only think of one-a sale of an unusable portion of Wolverton Park on Charlton Avenue.
There’s something about selling parkland that strikes a nerve with people. It’s like the Art Gallery of Hamilton selling an Alex Colville to pay for a new roof. The ploy seems like desperate money managing. The Eastwood Arena dilemma loops back to the city’s woeful $500 million backlog in infrastructure renewal. As one resident asked, “Why don’t you take care of what you have, I make my repairs to my house so it doesn’t fall apart.”
In fact not Farr or any staffer could remember any improvements being done at Eastwood-maybe something in the 1990’s Farr thought.
It reminds me of a wonderful talk I heard by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers who spearheaded the revitalization of New York’s Central Park. The problem she said was people will give you money to build things but they won’t give you money to maintain them.
About halfway through the meeting, Farr himself seemed to acknowledge his motion was on the lower side of half-baked. “Likely we’ll take this crazy idea off the table,” he said.
A straw poll saw everyone in the room, save for one, vote against the idea of parceling off a portion of Eastwood Park. As one woman remarked, why would we spend over $8 million dollars on the arena if hockey is in decline and usage of the ice is low? Another good point, and it started a conversation about making that building multi-use. Farr agreed that another meeting-a think tank on future uses, would be prudent.
While this meeting could be filed as a North End issue, it represents a city wide problem. The crumbling buildings, the spotty maintenance of parkland, it’s not going away. The big red budget line of $500 million needed for city-wide repairs is sobering.
As we left the meeting, one skeptical North Ender said to me, “This isn’t over yet.”
The next day I went to Eastwood arena to take some photographs. A young man, who couldn’t have been any nicer, showed me around. “The ice is good here, and so what if it’s cold, it’s like playing outdoors.” Indeed, if you happen to look at Google reviews of Eastwood, there are a lot of positive comments about the staff and the experience. “There’s a big sheet of ice, small bleachers, it’s like the hockey I grew up with, a good community rink,” said one reviewer.
When I left, a story came on the radio. The Hamilton Bulldogs owner wants to partner with the city to build a new 5-10,000 seat arena.
I thought, maybe this isn’t over yet.