The Elmira Sugar Kings are headed back to the bargaining table with recreation staff after township council agreed a proposed lease arrangement at the Woolwich Memorial Centre was too expensive.
The township wants to charge $6 per square foot for space occupied by a half-dozen user groups housed in the new facility. Given the Kings have 1,782 square feet of dedicated space, that would amount to $10,692 per year.
The hockey club, however, argued the township never mentioned a rental fee in all the planning for the new facility, noting the office and dressing room space at the old Elmira Arena were provided free of charge.
Team president Jeff Seddon, addressing council Tuesday night, said the Kings might have done things differently at the new building if they’d known there were extra costs coming down the pike.
“We knew nothing about the lease possibility for dedicated space,” he said, noting none of the teams in the Junior B hockey league pay for space at their home arenas.
On top of that, the Kings pay the highest ice rental fees in the league, he added.
His arguments scored points with councillors, especially when it was revealed the team paid to finish its own space, whereas the other user-group spaces were in ready-to-occupy condition, requiring only that furniture be moved in.
“We spent $50,000 on the changeroom. Nobody paid anywhere close to that amount of money,” said Seddon, prompting Coun. Sandy Shantz to suggest the Kings should pay a lower rate.
“I would entertain a different lease arrangement with them,” she said.
Coun. Ruby Weber went further, suggesting the team pay rent only for its office, but not the dressing room.
Neither Shantz nor Weber could recall any talk of lease fees for the user groups during the many meetings and planning sessions that got the WMC project rolling.
While councillors directed staff back to negotiations, they didn’t seem prepared to simply forego the rental charges.
Coun. Mark Bauman argued the township needs to recoup some of those costs at the WMC, admitting “it is a tough issue to deal with.”
Five other groups, in the meantime, will have to pay the $6 per square foot rental rate. Charges are to be phased in over the next three years. Beginning in September, one-third of the rate will apply, with that jumping to two-thirds in September 2011 and then hitting full freight the following year.
The Woolwich Seniors Association, which operates the 2,168-square-foot seniors’ centre, will pay $13,008 when the full rate applies. Woolwich Community Services, which runs the youth drop-in centre, faces a charge of $10,350 for its 1,725 square feet.
Three other groups will small amounts of office space will see comparatively smaller charges: Woolwich Minor Hockey, 393 square feet, $2,358; Woolwich Girls Minor Hockey, 237 and $1,422; and the Woolwich Figure Skating Club, $942 for 157 square feet.
Larry Devitt, the township’s director of recreation and facilities, said the lease agreements are based on a similar arrangement reached with Woolwich Youth Soccer, which now occupies the former visitor information centre building on First Street in Elmira.
In a later interview, he said he would like to meet as quickly as possible with Sugar Kings representatives to work on a new price.
“A lower rate is the message I understood from council.”
Just how low remains to be seen. The Kings are hoping there will be no extra charge for their space, as was the case in the old arena. The team is already facing ice rental rates double what they used to be, along with being cut from the township’s subsidy program.
“We’re asking for the same deal, with the new [ice] rates, that we had at the old place,” said Seddon.