Does Brandon need a new arena?

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2051
Photo by Jeremy Champagne (Scramble Studio)

When it comes to comparing communities, one component of the arms race is amenities and facilities available for entertainment. That’s one of the reasons both Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Regina replaced their aging large outdoor venues with shiny-new stadiums. They kept up with the times, and got some major events out of it.

 Smaller cities like Brandon are not immune from those pressures to compete. The Keystone Centre has brought a lot of business and events to Western Manitoba that would have gone elsewhere. The Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium has also done its part to bring arts and entertainment events to Brandon. The Keystone Centre was built in 1973, while the WMCA opened in 1969. Brandon residents probably need to start the conversation on what they want their entertainment future to look like.

 Most arenas have a lifespan of 40 years. It’s clear the Keystone Centre’s main arena had a pretty innovative design for its time, and with the addition of luxury boxes for the 2010  Memorial Cup, it has served the community very well. It’s connection to the rest of the facility makes it especially useful for agricultural and equine events. Down the road in Regina, the 1977-built Brandt Centre has a similar connection to the rest of its exhibition park. In Saskatoon, SaskTel Centre opened in 1988 with a hockey seating capacity of 7,700, and an ability to expand to 16,000 seats. After renovations, it can house more than 15,000 for hockey games.

 While it is important to consider both Regina and Saskatoon are larger cities than Brandon, both communities are now talking about new arenas. Recently, several concepts for a downtown arena, were proposed by city council in Saskatoon. The one most favoured in a feasibility study places the new arena across the street from its main concert hall and convention centre, two blocks from its main transit hub and a block away from the city’s historic restaurant and retail strip. With hotels already in place, the concept mirrors the Ice District in Edmonton, and the SHED district in Winnipeg. Regina also announced plans to consider a 10,000-seat facility in the north end of its downtown core, or its Warehouse District, across the tracks from downtown and has trendy bars and restaurants. It may also consider a site on its exhibition grounds, near the existing Brandt Centre.

 Discussions on both of those arena projects are happening for different reasons. SaskTel Centre is in the far north of Saskatoon. Anyone leaving the arena to go south has to go down one road. City council is looking for a downtown revitalization project, and the Saskatoon Blades WHL team would certainly benefit from being more central to corporate sponsors and fans. Parking is not an issue as there are large lots nearby. In Regina, the Brandt Centre has had mechanical issues and likely has seven to 10 years of life left as components are breaking down. Required building replacement is in sight, and can’t be pushed off.

 Westoba Place has been well maintained, and that has expanded the lifecycle for this facility as it nears its fifth decade of service. The same applies to the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium. That said, there are events that skip past Brandon because of building obsolescence.

Photo by Jeremy Champagne (Scramble Studio)

 Regina Exhibition Association Limited CEO Tim Reid told CKRM the Brandt Centre generates between $800,000 to $900,000 in revenue. A new facility is projected to generate between $1.8 and $2 million. It’s difficult to determine whether a similar increase in revenue would result in Brandon, but the longer a facility stays in use, the maintenance costs will rise.

 Election years are good times for public discussions on a city’s vision for the future. Should Brandon be considering a downtown revitalization project such as an arena? Should it be paired with a new auditorium? Should an new arena be built on the Keystone Centre grounds, with the existing Westoba Place repurposed? There is a need for an indoor soccer facility, or it could be turned into another equine arena or larger convention space. Will a private entity see the need for a new arena and build it themselves away from the Keystone Centre grounds? There’s plenty of options to discuss.

 It’s time for Brandonites to have that conversation before they get left behind by progress.

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Keith Borkowsky is a commentator who has 10 years of experience in politics as a past member of the Manitoba Legislature Press Gallery, as well as campaign manager, political staffer, and advisor to senior politicians and municipal governments. Aside from experience in politics, Keith was a sports reporter for more than 10 years. In the Brandon area, he covered curling in print as well as a play-by-play commentator on television