Barrie council backs tennis dome

“I trust staff will help the club get through the red tape and help move the project forward.” – Ward 1 Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth

After lobbing the oft-discussed Barrie tennis dome around council chambers one more time, the Barrie Community Tennis Club (BCTC) finally won municipal support to spend a $400,000 federal grant.
But the decision came somewhat grudgingly, with the club’s business plan being challenged as unrealistic and council reiterating that no municipal money will be on the table, even if the dome’s ongoing viability starts to deflate.
As a condition of council’s support, the club will have to provide the city updates every three months during construction and every year thereafter, an amendment by Ward 7 Coun. John Brassard to the original motion approved by general committee two weeks ago in support of the dome.
The club intends to build the winter-tennis dome in the south end, converting the existing tennis courts at Lennox Park. While the motion to support the club’s use of a Recreation Infrastructure Canada (RInC) program funds passed easily, Brassard and Mayor Jeff Lehman voted against it.
Even though the city is only “facilitating” the process, Lehman spoke against the principle of supporting the use of public funds to create an enterprise that would compete with existing private services.
The mayor also challenged the view that there was un-met demand for tennis services, a basic component of the club’s business plan. He also drew a distinction between privately operated recreational facilities and municipal services like recreation centres that provide wide-ranging recreational programs.
Earlier in the evening in a presentation to council, John Wellar of the Barrie North Winter Tennis club (BNWT), also challenged the BCTC’s business plan, saying there aren’t enough people in the region willing to pay to play winter tennis.
“It is our opinion that far too many questions remain unanswered at this time and that the proposal in question lacks financial sustainability,” he said in a letter to city clerk Dawn McAlpine requesting deputation time.
“Council has decided to move forward with this … based on the idea that the city will not be strapped with any associated construction costs. Not only is this still uncertain, but the BCTC operating budget should raise a red flag with council.”
Wellar maintained the project should never have been approved, and cited staff reports that stated there was no pent-up demand for winter tennis in Barrie, that the sport was not a recreational priority for the city, and which recommended council not support the project.
Brassard also felt the project was a risky proposition for the city, not buying the argument that it won’t cost municipal taxpayers anything. “At some point Barrie taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill.”
His amendment to seek ongoing progress reports was to prevent the municipality from being “blindsided” by unexpected costs by providing transparency and accountability.
“I think it’s important that we stay on top of the project right from the beginning.”
Ward 1 Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth spoke in support of the dome, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.
“I trust staff will help the club get through the red tape and help move the project forward.”
Ward 1 Coun. Alex Nuttall said if the dome’s proponents did come to the city looking for funds some time in the future, the answer would still be no.
“I would be shocked if the Barrie Community Tennis Club didn’t understand that there is no money … I think that message has been sent and I think that has been received.”
Ward 9 Coun. Brian Jackson, in whose ward the dome will be located, said he has polled residents, and found they “are not troubled with the tennis dome being located there.”
They do want the existing basketball court to remain, but believe the presence of the dome may actually reduce vandalism at the park, said Jackson.
Conditions of council’s support include the club being “responsible for the design, construction and operating costs of the facility,” and the relocation of the basketball court at Lennox Park.

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