New university hockey arena is still in the works

“It's pretty clear that Rutherford Rink is past its prime.” - Richard Florizone, Vice-President of Finance and Resources at the U of S

Much like students at the University of Saskatchewan, university president Peter MacKinnon will be burning the midnight oil right up until his term ends on June 30, 2012.

MacKinnon had three major initiatives when he took office 12 years ago — to reopen the College Building, to build more residences and to build a new hockey arena. The College building was reopened in 2005 and the first of two new residences just opened this summer, but campus has yet to start construction on a new rink.

Fortunately, an arena with two ice surfaces is part of the university’s College Quarter master plan and has become a top priority for the president’s office.

“In the nearly six years that I’ve been at the university, I don’t think a month goes by that president MacKinnon doesn’t ask me about the rink,” said Richard Florizone, vice-president of finance and resources at the university. “It’s pretty clear that Rutherford Rink is past its prime.”

The university conducted two studies in 2009 centred around the prospect of building a new hockey rink on campus. The first was a market analysis that showed that the demand for ice in Saskatoon was high enough for the university to support building another surface. The second was a preliminary business plan to establish the estimated cost of an arena with two ice surfaces. It determined that a new arena with one ice surface with 2,500 seats and an additional ice surface with minimal seating would cost $25 to $30 million. The idea is that one surface would host campus activities like intramural hockey and Huskies hockey while the other would rent itself to the Saskatoon community.

Now, the university has hit the wall of developing a funding plan for the arena.

“When you’re dealing with a $30-million project, you are in an area where you have to begin with large donations,” said MacKinnon.

The university explored funding through all levels of government but only found potential funding federally in the P3 Canada fund — a fund that supports public-private partnerships and could pay for 25 per cent of the arena. They have submitted an application to the fund and will find out in November whether or not they are eligible to submit a business plan, which will be assessed to see if the project qualifies for funding.

“We would like to plan a multi-purpose facility that could include a hotel, perhaps some retail space and perhaps a new rink and see if there is interest in private-partnership development,” said MacKinnon. “[Our hope is] that the revenues obtained could be used to pay the costs of new facilities, including a new rink.”

According to the university, the College Quarter development is the perfect place for this facility.

“When you take the Physical Activity Complex, Griffiths Stadium, the new parking facility, the Field House and, if we could add in that same general area, a twin-pad ice surface, we would have a wonderful athletic facility,” said MacKinnon.

Florizone added that building an arena near or attached to the field house would also cut infrastructure costs.

“For years, we’ve been assembling a business package [for this project],” said Florizone.

The plan has been tedious because Florizone knows it must be exceptionally strong in order for the university to entice that first significant source of funding to push the project into action.

“I think the issue has been that the project — at $30 million — is too big for any one party, so we have to find a way to get this thing going and make it more attractive to reduce the financial burden. Then other parties might come along,” said Florizone. “You usually need a catalyst. We think the catalyst can be the P3 development with the hotel.”

That is why November might be the most important month yet for the proposed arena: The university will find out if it is eligible to submit a business plan to the P3 Canada fund and they will approach city council with the College Quarter master plan to find out if a new arena passes zoning approval.


photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf