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Posted: May 22, 2003

Multisport: The Fight for an Indoor Training Center in Ottawa

This article originally appeared in Ottawa Outdoors Magazine.

The Bark

By Ken Parker

The City of Ottawa 2001 Multi-sport Training Centre Initiative died shortly after leaving the planner's desk. But first a bit of history….

The City currently offers over 1,300 different types of recreation and culture programs at:
· 800 sports fields (outside)
· 40 ice surfaces
· 17 indoor swimming pools
· 150 community centres
· Other recreation and cultural facilities.

In addition, the City is currently involved in the procurement process for two new domed facilities. But it offers Ottawa athletes no indoor track facilities. Right now, some of Ottawa's best athletes have to drive 90 minutes to the Canadian Forces Base at Pettawawa to train.

At a City meeting in February 2001, a decision was taken to commission a study on the feasibility of an indoor training centre. This idea enjoyed widespread support from athletes in a broad variety of sports. While the study started out as a track and field facility study, it quickly morphed into a study concerning a multi-sport training centre - a facility for users encompassing all ages and fitness levels, numbering in the tens of thousands and representing sports as diverse as track and field, canoeing, basketball, triathlon, soccer, bobsled, ultimate Frisbee, and the Special Olympics.

In February 2002, City staff presented the feasibility study at a meeting of the Health, Recreation and Social Services Committee. Following presentations by various community members and a discussion, the committee voted unanimously to support the study and directed City staff members to prepare a detailed business plan for the indoor training centre. Despite this direction, and with no further communication with the sports community, City staff abandoned the entire initiative.

What happened? It now appears that the Cadillac-only alternative (a City decision) costing $25-30 million, was too expensive. The study was killed. In the weeks following public awareness of the study's cancellation, two major stories on the lack of a track facility in Ottawa appeared in the Ottawa Citizen and the Sun.

Hopeful Signs

On April 10th, a meeting was held with the Mayor at which he asked senior staff to review the track and field situation in order to find solutions. Solutions would include looking at:

1. The provision of interim training facilities for track and field athletes. Possible options include the use of the Coliseum Building at Lansdowne Park, a dome facility, the use of an existing building and any other viable scenario. The Mayor aims to identify interim measures to address the situation for the 2003-2004 winter season.

2. A longer term strategy to look at a permanent facility. This could include a track around an ice surface, a second level track in a new recreation facility, and building a complex encompassing several recreation facilities along with commercial use. All of these options can be explored under the City's P3 (Private Public Partnership) plan.

The most encouraging aspect of this is the recognition of the need for a facility for the "here and now," which recognizes that a permanent facility is likely far off in the future. It was also encouraging to see some "outside the box" thinking, and the Mayor urging staff to be creative.

This initiative will cost money. However, we must keep in mind what has been done for professional sports teams:

1. The City built a single-use facility, baseball stadium for the Lynx, expending over $20 million of taxpayers' money. This stadium is the biggest "white elephant" in the City. When the Lynx leave town, the stadium will make a great snow dump.

2. The Renegades have a three-year, rent-free contract at Lansdowne Park - a gift from the City.

3. The Senators' property tax bill was reduced from $4.6 million to $700,000 as part of deal between the Province of Ontario, the City of Kanata and the Region Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton in 1999. This deal continues today under the new City of Ottawa

The yearly cost of these subsidies would allow the building of several domes per year for amateur sport.

For 30 years people have been studying and discussing the possibility of Ottawa getting an indoor track facility. I won't believe the City will ever get one until I see it and run in it. We have no choice but to continue to hope that Ottawans will be able to come in from the cold and compete on an equal footing with athletes from the rest of Canada.

Local athletes deserve nothing less.

Pick up your copy of Ottawa Indoors at your favourite magazine store. This month's issue contains an interview with Canadian Olympic triathlete Sharon Donnelly.

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