WINDSOR, N.S. — It looks like if Windsor wants to continue to use the Hants Exhibition Arena as an ice surface, the cost to taxpayers, or facility users, will go up.
In correspondence between the Windsor Agricultural Society, the non-profit group which maintains the Hants County Exhibition grounds, and the Town of Windsor, the society requested $4,000 per month for rent, among other costs, for the town to use the area during the 2018-19 season.
Since 1981, arena usage has been given to the town rent-free, meaning this will be a new cost for the town.
Windsor council ended the contract with the WAS in 2015, while plans were underway to build a new hockey heritage museum and arena, but that project has stalled. Council wanted to extend the original agreement to ensure enough ice time was available to users.
The town asked if the society would consider extending the existing contract for another season, while discussions on the new arena project continue.
The town and society share costs related to arena maintenance, and the town has paid for its own commitments, including staff, the ice plant and other items related to the running of an ice surface.
In previous budgets, the town has spent approximately $200,000 on the arena for staff and maintenance.
Lisa Hines, president of the Windsor Agricultural Society, said this new rental fee proposal isn’t a punishment for ending the contract prematurely.
“To date, the arena has been handed over rent free to the town during the winter months, from November until April,” Hines said. “That was the agreement over the past several decades.”
Hines said after they received notice that the town wanted out of the agreement, they started the process of finding a new use for the facility. One idea they had was storage for large vehicles, including motorhomes.
“We were looking for a way to generate some revenue from our building, which we haven’t had an opportunity to do since 1981,” she said.
Hines said members of the society did the math on potential revenue sources and determined that $4,000 a month rent would be comparable to what they would get for something like RV storage.
Members of council, having seen this figure, questioned how this pricing structure would work — would it be on top of the money they put into the building on an annual basis, or would the rent cover all costs.
Hines said the rent would be on top of other costs.
“It’s not a penalty in any way; we have bills to pay, we have investments we want to make in our grounds,” she said. “It hasn’t been an easy situation for us. I hope we can all work together and continue on until there’s another solution.”
In the letter to the town, a few other requirements were attached to extend the agreement, including paying to remove and replace the earth in the arena in 2018-19.
In a written response to the WAS, chief administrative officer Louis Coutinho said members of council were concerned with the new rental charge, as it hasn’t been budgeted for.
He said this might require those fees to be passed onto the arena users by way of higher rental fees.
CDD moving forward
In other council news, Windsor approved setting things in motion to establish a Commercial Development District in town and will begin discussions with the town’s landlords and merchants.
The municipal planning strategy will have to be amended before the CDD can be put into place. Currently, the town is focusing on establishing the zone in the downtown core and Mill Island, the site of the former Windsor Wear textiles building.
Council may broaden the district to include more areas of the town.
Once implemented, the CDD will give landowners a rebate on their tax bill, based on increases in assessment, after renovations or development are completed, over a 10-year period.
Council is hopeful the CDD will spur new growth and development in the town.
There will be an information session on the CDD during the next committee of the whole meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2017.