City approves $7 million towards Leaside Arena Expansion

The expansion of the Leaside Gardens Arena is one step closer to reality after city council approved the project as part of its capital budget.

“We’re quite delighted by it,” said Brooke Biscoe. “It gets us past one major hurdle in making this project happen.”

Biscoe is the chairperson of the Leaside Gardens Board of Management, which runs the city owned rink on Millwood Road. Plans to build the much-needed second ice pad at the Leaside Gardens have been in the works for more than a decade as user groups have struggled to find enough ice time to meet their needs.

All prime-time ice (between 5 and 11 p.m. weekdays and between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. weekends) at the 60-year-old arena is fully booked with 95 per cent of that time devoted to youth non-competitive use.

“We don’t have any ice left to rent,” Biscoe said.

The three main user groups at the rinks are the Leaside Skating Club, Leaside Hockey Association and Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association; Biscoe said the skating club had to turn down more than 60 children for its learn to skate program this year because they just didn’t have enough ice time.

The Leaside Arena Expansion Project will see the current rink twinned and cost an estimated $9.5 million, of which $7 million will come from a city-guaranteed loan to be repaid through future operating revenues, and $2.5 million must be raised by the primary partner groups and the local community.

Arena Expansion Committee chairperson Paul Mercer said the community has already raised $1.4 million and the fundraising sub-committee has been busy trying to secure the rest. One option is to allow one of the interested corporations to purchase the naming rights.

Mercer is thrilled the project was approved, but knows there is more work to be done.

“We still have a lot of work to do. The donor family did their part to get things moving. City council has done its part by approving the project. Now it’s up to the community to do our part and raise the $2.5 million.” Mercer said.

“We’re more than half way towards our goal but we have more to raise before August 1st in order to keep the project on schedule.”

In 2010, a local family stepped forward with an anonymous donation that enabled the hiring of an architect and planning work with city officials to begin.

“If they didn’t do what they did…We’re a year ahead of where we would have been otherwise,” Mercer said.

Before the donation and the approval, the plan first began to accelerate in 2009 when the city agreed to buy the adjacent property (formerly home to the Ontario Film Review Board) on which the second pad will be built.

If everything stays on track the goal is a August ground breaking and a completion date of the following September – just in time to kick off the 2012 skating and hockey season.