Plan for Kawartha Centre, the $90-million sports complex in Peterborough gains momentum

Friday, Apr 17, 2015

A Peterborough developer is launching a plan to build a $90 million sports complex near the corner of Clonsilla Avenue and Lansdowne Street.

The complex, called Kawartha Centre, will include a twin-pad arena, sports fields and a swimming pool — crossing off a few of the wishlist items the City of Peterborough had been considering for a new municipally-run facility. The developer, John MacDonald, is also planning a hotel and convention centre for the 22-acre site. In all, Mr. MacDonald expects the complex could generate anywhere from $50 to $60 million in tourism revenue each year.

Mr. MacDonald says the complex could also serve as a new home for the Peterborough Petes, Peterborough Lakers, the Peterborough Sports Hall of Fame and Peterborough Aquatics.

It’s a private development, but Mr. MacDonald is looking to work with the City to make the complex a draw for the region.

In fact, he says the proposal won’t work without the City’s involvement. He was hoping to start working with the City when staff began considering options for a new twin-pad arena to replace the  aging Northcrest arena, but the timing wasn’t right. The Kawartha Centre proposal wasn’t considered at the time since the sale of the property hadn’t been finalized, according to Mr. MacDonald.

The Kawartha Golf and County Club severed 22.54 acres and put the land up for sale in August 2014, after undergoing a strategic planning process. The deal with Mr. MacDonald went through in November 2014, but it wasn’t soon enough for the former country club property to be considered as a potential site for a new arena.

Instead, the City is considering four other sites, including Morrow Park, Trent University and two different sites at Fleming College.  Peterborough sports groups have pushed City staff to give Morrow Park special consideration but the land is home to the Peterborough Agricultural Society’s annual exhibition.

While the Agricultural Society has welcomed conversations about how to potentially share the land, it’s currently in negotiations with the City over the use of the park.

A new twin-pad arena is expected to cost the City at least $20 million. When adding in additional features, like a swimming pool, the price tag creeps closer to $40 million. While it’s unclear what financial help the provincial and federal government could provide, the City is hoping to have its arena project shovel-ready in case a funding opportunity pops up.

Mr. MacDonald says the Kawartha Centre will need those opportunities to go forward, and the project could be a chance for the City to get the complex it’s been dreaming of.

“Everything is open right now,” Mr. MacDonald says. “Right now, it’ll be most effective and most productive to have this run by the private sector.”

Right now, Mr. MacDonald says he’s got one primary goal: To put together a sports-centred athletic facility that will help Peterborough thrive.

He adds he considered three different proposals for the land.

“I kept coming back to, ‘what’s best for Peterborough?’” he says. “This, I believe, is what’s best for Peterborough.”

Tim Barrie, vice president of Sport Kawartha, says the group isn't convinced Mr. MacDonald's proposal is the perfect fit for the Petes, since the plan only includes a twin-pad arena. The group had been hoping to work with the City on a plan that addressing future needs for all of Peterborough's arenas -- meaning the new site would have to leave lots of room to grow.

He says 22 acres is pushing it.

The group is willing to consider talking with Mr. MacDonald about the project, but Mr. Barrie says they're still interested in Morrow Park.

"We've been working closely with the Agricultural Society," he says. "Our position is that Morrow Park is still a better site."

Jim Devlin, president of the Petes and one of Mr. Barrie's allies, agrees. However he feels the Clonsilla Avenue site is a better option that an arena in the far north end at Trent University or far west end at Fleming College.

He has met with Mr. MacDonald about his plans.

"He does have a vision and it would be positive for the community," Mr. Devlin says. "But we cannot ignore Morrow Park...It requires people at City Hall to have a vision."

City staff are releasing a report on Friday (April 17) on progress to narrow down options for a new arena. It'll go up for discussion at a Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall on Monday (April 20). Mr. Devlin wants to see that report and follow through on discussions to change the Memorial Centre into a bigger venue complemented by other recreation facilities at the park. Its located within a few blocks of Little Lake and walking distance to downtown encourages tourists to see more of the city, he adds.

"It's important to see what the City is doing first," Mr. Devlin says. "The City needs to come to grips with Morrow Park."

Mary Gallop, manager of facilities and special projects for the city, has been working on the project and expects to report back to councillors on the status of that process soon.

She was blindsided by news that plans for a private development are already in the works.

“I don’t know anything about it,” she says.

Ken Doherty, director of community services for the City, says he knew there was interest from Mr. McDonald and his firm, Navigator.

“The City had been approached by a developer,” he says. “We advised that we were already in a process…We need to see that process through in fairness to the people we’ve been working with.”

Mr. Doherty says City staff are 90 per cent done narrowing down options for a new arena.

According to a press release, Navigator will put together a formal business plan for the Kawartha Centre in the coming months. Mr. MacDonald expects public and private partnerships will keep operating and capital expenses low for the City.

He wants to make it clear from the start, that he’ll be transparent throughout the planning stages.

“This will be an open-book procedure to be vetted by planners, cost consultants — you name it. Whatever (the City) wants,” he says.

As he walked around the property on Thursday morning (April 16), a visitor driving into the golf course stopped briefly to say "hello." He'd already read about Mr. MacDonald's plans.

"Well done," he said, with a wave.

Mr. MacDonald paused and took a deep breath.

"That's nice to hear," he said.

Mr. MacDonald has been involved in a number of other projects including Kawartha Glen, Costco Peterborough and Peterborough EMS.

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