Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Waterpark Musings

I am afraid that I might lose my local blogging licence if I don't post about the waterpark issue, so here it goes.

PCU Centre
I'm not against a waterpark. As part of the basket of recreational services offered by a city they can be a good thing. Some communities in Manitoba such as Dauphin and Portage have done a great job using them as anchors for recreational complexes.

What Winnipeg has on the table, however, isn't a civic waterpark. It is a private hotel waterpark that will somehow ensure that poor families get $7m worth of visits. As pointed out by Policy Frog on last week's Winnipeg Internet Pundits, how this value gets distributed to needy Winnipeg families is still a bit of a mystery. Through social service agencies ? A walk-up system ? (If you remember back to 2007 - 08 when the money was first offered, this project was as much about providing such a facility for citizens as it was about being a major tourist attraction.)

Without a firm plan in place, I wonder how well the the public requirements and a private hotel will mesh. After all, we're in a city where a national corporation unashamedly admitted to pulling their staff from a downtown hotel because "certain people" were milling around outside and sometimes got into the building. Sadly, many locals use "these people' as a scapegoat for the ills of the downtown.

I wonder if the challenge of a hotel crawling with some of the city's neediest families and their parents will have an impact on how passes get distributed ?

Cindy Klassen Rec Centre
To give credit where credit is due, the mayor and city have done a good job when it comes to improving aging recreational facilities. The Cindy Klassen Recreation Centre is a jewel, Bronx Park was completely rebuilt and Central Park's splash pad makes me wish I was a kid again.

It's unfortunate that this $7m will not continue this tradition.

Sherbrook Pool
There are a number of existing pools in the city, many built in the late 70s - early 80s and in need of repair, that supply most of what a large waterpark would need - a site, parking, seating, tank, change areas etc.

Let me bring up one facility that goes much further back than that: the Sherbrook Pool. It sits underutilized in the heart of one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods, (see the Google Streetview.). As a tank-only Olympic sized swimming pool (with a very small gym) it has ended up on the chopping block a couple of times only to barely get a reprieve.

On weekends there are free and toonie swims and the place is packed, especially in summer. Because operating costs are high, there is little to offer besides a tank and the fact that maintenance has been neglected for decades, means that its days will always be numbered as an inner-city recreation facility as newer aquatic facilities have incorporated gyms, play areas and waterslides into their renovations.

Would $7m be able to recreate this site (or a couple of existing pools ?) I think it would. (I first wrote about this in 2008 when council first awarded the $7m to CanadInns Polo Park.)

Lockport 100th: Day 2 !
This project has, of course, morphed from it's original intention into being a legacy project for the mayor.

Many of Katz' promises have had a very short shelf life. Remember free transit for seniors ? Wi-fi-ing the downtown ? Cutting the business tax for downtown businesses ? All came and went in a budget cycle or two, never to be revisited again. Relatively speaking, the waterpark idea's five year run is rather remarkable.

I attended the downtown issues debate during the last election when Katz listed off the great projects that were bringing downtown back to life: the MTS Centre, the Manitoba Hydro Tower and CanWest (now Shaw) Park. It was not lost on the crowd that none of these projects were "his". I remember feeling at the time that the former promoter-turned-mayor would likely be seeking a shiny bauble of his own. It appears that the waterpark is his choice.

Human RIght Museum
It is unfortunate for everyone that the mayor's legacy dream and his two stated goals, a great attraction for the downtown area and additional water-based recreational amenities for youth, have ended up crystallizing into something as mundane as a chain hotel with a waterpark at The Forks.


One Man Committee said...

In some ways, a publicly subsidized Super 8 across from the Goldeyes stadium with an attached pool and waterslide would be a fitting symbol of the Katz years at City Hall.

However, I agree with the sentiment that the $7 million in question could be put to far better use. Creating a good inner city facility to replace the Sherbrook Pool is one excellent example.

Fat Arse said...

Redirecting the $7m to existing facilities would produce far more in the way of tangible benefits. As for how the vouchers would be distributed, as both you and Policy Frog have noted this is problematic. To my mind social services agencies need not be saddled with the obligation and are not the way to go. School divisions already have systems in place to allocate such passes and they would be the logical choice in so far as distribution goes. If passes were issued on a class by class basis it would build a shared experience amongst the children and avoid stigmatizing the voucher recipients.