The town of Yarmouth has now officially extended an invitation to the other two municipal units in Yarmouth to discuss a Mariners Centre expansion with it.
A motion was approved at its council meeting last week to send a letter to the Municipalities of Yarmouth and Argyle, inviting them to the table. This has been done.
The expansion has now become the town’s top capital priority, given the indication that provincial and federal recreation infrastructure funding streams are aligning in the near future. This project, it’s been stated around the council table, would fit in perfectly with those dollars and so working towards an application is now the goal as those funding opportunities won’t exist forever once they present themselves.
Still, there was talk around the council table at its Feb. 14 monthly meeting about another project that until recently had sat atop the town’s priority list – that being an arts and culture centre.
That project isn’t being abandoned, council discussed, but the federal and provincial funds to move forward with it aren’t on the horizon, in comparison to ones that could be available for an expansion of the Mariners Centre. So despite the work on the arts centre, that project won't see any movement for the time being.
“I feel bad about that,” Councillor Jim MacLeod stated at council’s meeting, saying there will be a silent majority in the arts community that will be disappointed to see that project sliding down the list, given the consultation work and other input that’s occurred over the past two years.
But, he said, he is supporting the Mariners Centre expansion. Still, he expressed some concerns, mostly pertaining to the YMCA. MacLeod said he doesn’t feel the YMCA brand is as strong as it used to be, saying this is something that needs to be worked on more. Although there have been suggestions to the contrary that moving YMCA operations out to the Mariners Centre as part of an expansion could see membership increase, MacLeod worries it could have the opposite effect and memberships will drop, especially if the Y isn’t as accessible for people who walk to it. Thinking out loud he said maybe a proper pool could be constructed at the Mariners Centre, but a renovation of the YMCA facilities downtown could also occur.
He noted rejuvenating a downtown becomes more of a challenge when buildings – especially a large anchor such as this one – become vacant.
Councillor Don Berry also expressed worry about the impact that moving the YMCA further away from the downtown core and some residential parts of the town could have on users. He supports an expansion of the Mariners Centre, he said, but he still has this as a concern.
While there has been consultation and study on what a Mariners Centre expansion could house, there’s been no official decision by the municipal units as to how an expansion will take shape.
That is a discussion to be had, but equally important from the town’s perspective – or perhaps even more so – is how an expansion (pegged at $30-to-$35 million) would see its local share divided up.
MacLeod suggested that gone are the days when all things are split evenly on every project into a third/a third/a third locally. The town has said usage and population has to be a consideration. It was pointed out that when it comes to minor hockey, for instance, which is a large user of the Mariners Centre, the municipalities of Argyle and Yarmouth have more of their residents enrolled than the town does.
From a users' perspective, it shouldn’t be assumed that because the Mariners Centre is located in the town that it is is only the town that benefits from having it available to users or that they represent the largest number of users. Residents from all three municipal units are users of the Mariners Centre. And the other two units have higher population figures than the town. This was part of the discussion around the table.
Councillor Clifford Hood said the other two municipal units need to see that usage and population need to be consideration factors when it comes to funding.
In the past the three units had identified the expansion of the Mariners Centre as a regional priority but breaking down how it will be funded is a discussion that still needs to be had.
It was noted by town CAO Jeff Gushue during council’s discussion that the Municipality of Argyle has agreed to come to the table, which is a good sign of intermunicipal support.
The Municipality of Yarmouth discussed the expansion and the town's letter at a Feb. 20 meeting. (We'll link to a story from that discussion when it's available online.) Their CAO Victoria Brooks said they had intended to talk about it at a Feb. 13 committee of the whole meeting but that meeting got cancelled due to weather.
In addition to how to divvy up the local share of funding, it is important for all sides to remember Mayor Pam Mood noted that the funding obligations for the three units won’t end with the construction of an expansion.
“The easy part will be getting it built,” she said. The hard part stems from the fact that it will take a lot of money every year to operate it.
As mentioned, there was discussion around the council table about the arts and culture centre project that for now will be put on the back burner by the town.
Hood said it is regretful, given the work that’s gone into the project. But he said there isn’t a willing funding partner at the other levels of government that is needed to move forward with the project.
Still, Hood said the town owes it to the people who were excited about the potential of an arts centre to explain the shifting of its priorities.
“We need to communicate with the people whose expectations we raised,” he said, adding it’s hard to see projects “clicking head-to-head.”
But, he said, the town can’t ignore where the funding possibilities exist, and right now possibilities – albeit not guarantees – exist with the Mariners Centre expansion.
The arts centre project hasn’t been embraced by the entire community. A lot of that has seemed to stem from public concerns over the location the town chose – the Collins Street parking lot – and the fact that the town and Th’YARC were not on the same page when it came to a facility.
Mayor Mood commented during the Feb. 14 council meeting on how she could never understand why people wouldn’t think an arts centre, like the one the town was working on, would be a good thing for the area.
She said like the Mariners Centre reaches people of all ages, so too would an arts centre – from youth to seniors and all ages in between.
While the town is now focusing its attention on a Mariners Centre expansion, she said it doesn’t mean they are giving up on arts centre in the future.
Meanwhile, Councillor Wade Cleveland said he is happy to see the town moving forward with the Mariners Centre expansion as its focus. He said the time to move forward on this project is now.