Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation gives momentum to multiplex

A recent funding announcement has the West Coast Multiplex Society riding a momentous wave.

A recent funding announcement has the West Coast Multiplex Society riding a momentous wave.

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) has officially signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) to provide $100,000 worth of funding to cover the cost of a business plan, preliminary design and construction cost estimate for the facility.

“Tla‐o‐qui‐aht has a strong vision of participating in economic opportunities within their traditional territories,” TFN Deputy Chief Councillor Elmer Frank said. “TFN is strongly committed to improving access to recreational facilities for both their members and the ACRD area.”

The multiplex’s last business plan was done in 2008 and was based on a $24 million complex that included both a skating rink and swimming pool. The Multiplex Society has since scaled that initial plan back and is now looking at a phased approach with the first phase being a roughly $6 million rink.

“One of the reasons why a new business plan is required is because there have been changes to the size and scale of this facility,” said ACRD Chair Josie Osborne.

“Because the multiplex society has decided to go with a less fancy option, we need to take a good look at what the operating costs will be,” Osborne said.

Multiplex Society chair Samantha Hackett said the skating rink would help serve as a launching pad for the second phase’s swimming pool.

“The rink is more affordable up front, so it’s an easier one to start with to get the money flowing and then the pool will be a lot easier to come by,” Hackett told the Westerly adding Whistler took a similar approach with much success. “They had the money for the pool within a year after the rink was built. So it’s a good example that once you have those pieces in place it’s a lot easier to finish the project.”

She said the society needs to have the business plan in hand in order to apply for grants and she assured fundraising efforts would kick off as soon as the plan is complete.

She added the society would be working on fundraising strategies while the plan is being hashed out.

“While this is happening, we’re going to be building out our fundraising plan so that we are hitting the ground running when that plan is to paper,” she said.

“Our best case scenario is already fundraising in 2016 [and] our ideal situation is we’re still breaking ground in 2017; we said that in 2015 and we still think that’s a doable timeline.”

Osborne said the business plan, preliminary design and construction cost estimate the TFN is funding should all be complete within the year but cautioned locals not to expect a multiplex to pop up once the work is done.

“We should not underestimate the task ahead of us to raise the funds to build the facility,” she said. “Right now, the number that’s talked about is a $6 million facility; well that number will be refined obviously through this process but raising that kind of money in this current climate could be a challenge.”

In a 2012 referendum, local taxpayers agreed to cover a multiplex’s operational costs for up to $450,000 a year with the Multiplex Society tasked with raising all the capital costs but Osborne suggested the amount of capital funding needed could ultimately prove too large to stay clear of tax dollars.

“The understanding the regional district has with the Multiplex Society is that those [capital] funds will not come from taxpayers,” she said. “But, things can change and we shouldn’t be afraid of things changing; we should talk about them openly and discuss what the options are, but I think that’s where the conversation could get quite challenging because that’s when we pit projects against projects and ask ourselves what’s more important.”

Osborne, who is Tofino’s mayor, acknowledged Tofino’s council recently discussed backing away from the multiplex in favour of an indoor gym for their community.

“This is about indoor recreational opportunities in a place that’s got a rainy climate and certainly there are some members of Tofino council that are asking the question, ‘What is the best way to address our community’s indoor recreation needs,” she said.

“[Tofino] has expressed an interest in an indoor recreation facility, there’s a wastewater treatment plant…there’s only so much taxpayers can be burdened with and councillors are wanting to make sure that the projects that go forward are the ones that the community needs and values the most.”

She noted four years have passed since the referendum was held and suggested the multiplex’s early momentum has been replaced with uncertainty over affordability and need.

“There’s two kinds of feasibility here, one is the financial feasibility and that’s probably one of the most important things to answer…The second is more what I might call political feasibility,” she said.

“People are asking what I think is a very valid question which is: ‘Is this still what we want to do and can we afford to do it.”

She said the TFN-funded business plan would be a key source of answers.

“What this MOU does is give us the ability to answer those questions. So, by doing the business plan, and understanding fully what the operational costs of running an ice rink would be, we can answer that question perhaps once and for all: do we want to do this and can we afford it,” she said.

She said local leaders plan to increase communication with the Multiplex Society moving forward.

“Frankly, I think we probably never communicate enough. You make the assumption that because you see people around town that you know what’s going on but we actually do need to sit down on a regular basis and keep each other informed of where things are at,” she said.

“Because the ACRD will administrate this $100,000, and essentially run the process, to me, it’s absolutely critical that the other parties are involved as much as possible so we don’t get to the end with any surprises.”

Hackett said the Multiplex Society has never discussed putting tax dollars towards the capital costs of the facility and she personally doubts that conversation would ever take place because she believes the society’s longtime members would hold true to their word.

“They feel like they’ve already promised the communities that that’s not something that we’d consider and personally, knowing what we’ve been able to accomplish and what we can accomplish, I don’t think we need to,” she said.

She agreed with Osborne that more communication is needed and said she hopes to speak to Tofino’s council soon.