The Pictou County Wellness Centre will be ending this fiscal year in the red and by all indications will be budgeting a deficit next year as well.
It’s not really unexpected. The centre actually budgeted to run a $600,000 deficit after finishing about $450,000 in the red after the first partial year of operation. There is still the rest of March to get through before final numbers for the 2013/2014 fiscal year can be completed, but it’s headed in the direction the municipalities expected.
Warden Ron Baillie said the Municipality of Pictou County had budgeted for making up their share of that operational deficit. He believes the other towns, with the exception of Westville which is not responsible for covering operational costs, had done the same. Westville had agreed to allow a deed transfer tax to help cover the capital costs of the Wellness Centre, but said they could not afford the liability of being responsible for operational deficits.
While the closing of John Brother MacDonald Stadium in New Glasgow did boost ice use some, general manager Mike Adam said it wasn’t enough to put the Wellness Centre in the black.
January was the peak month for ice rentals with about 70 per cent prime time utilization. December was one of the lowest months with 58 per cent prime time usage on the Sobeys Ice Surface and 63 on the Bell Aliant Ice surface. Prime time is Monday through Friday 4 to 11 p.m. and the weekends. Prior to the John Brother closing the Wellness Centre had only reached about 42 per cent usage.
To realistically make ends meet, he estimated they’d need utilization around 95 per cent as well as higher rates. But the building authority has maintained a desire to keep the rates low for two reasons. One is accessibility and the other is to remain competitive with the other ice surfaces in the county.
“It’s tough to balance financial sustainability with accessibility,” Adam said.
Baillie, who is co chair of the Pictou County Wellness Centre authority, agreed.
“There are so many other facilities open we have to be competitive with those facilities,” Baillie said. “That’s the big issue. Plus you have to look at people’s pocketbooks as to how much they can afford.”
Baillie said he’d love to see the use of the centre increase to the 90 per cent usage range, but there are other areas they’re looking at for growth including hosting events such as the Maritime Firefighters Association conference which will bring hundreds to the facility this summer.
“We just have to keep getting events such as that,” Baillie said.
Adam said he’s also looking at some of the other opportunities ranging from weddings and receptions to large concerts.
The problem with the concert end of things is that in winter it’s hard to clear a weekend of ice rentals without having to charge significantly for the use of the venue. Converting the ice surface to a concert venue also takes time and personnel resources.
“It’s a tough market too get into and a very tough market to make it profitable,” he said.
That said, it’s something the Wellness Centre staff continue to actively pursue. Spring, summer and fall it’s much easier to find available times, Adam said.
This summer, the Wellness Centre will keep ice in the Sobeys arena. Adam said there were only a few weeks where there wasn’t demand for the ice and to take it out for such a short period wouldn’t make financial sense for the Centre. He said they’re hoping to market that and get people interested in using the available ice time.
One of the keys to the success of the centre, Adam said, will be to make sure that those who use the facility enjoy their experience. He hopes this summer during the firefighters association conference they can really show how well a major event can do there.
“We need to make sure that event goes off the way it should,” she said.
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