In the lead up to the last ACT election in August 2016, Labor staged a media conference on the shores of Lake Tuggeranong and announced plans for a new ice sports facility as part of a pre-election promise.
As one of the media representatives on hand for the announcement, I can tell you there was optimism from the Canberra ice sports community. They were confident that after years of campaigning the dream of a new facility would come true.
At the time it was suggested that construction would commence within the current parliamentary term, meaning it would have been operational around now.
The signs were promising with Labor re-elected. It was felt as though things were on track to move on from the existing facility at Phillip, which was opened in 1980 and in need of refurbishment.
The ACT Ice Sports Facility Options Analysis Report of 2018 estimated the cost of a two-rink facility to be around $35 million. The ACT Ice Sports body had a vision of all manner of ice sports being played on the two Olympic-sized rinks.
The plan was for a public-private ownership model with the ACT Government playing a facilitating role.
But far from being operational by August 2020, and after one election cycle, the facility appears far from construction.
The government didn’t open the tender process until September 2019, seeking expressions of interest in the design, construction, ownership, operation and maintenance of the facility.
For its part, the ACT Government indicated it would provide a financial contribution to support the establishment of the facility.
Since the opening of the tender process there has been virtual radio silence on the future of the project.
I must admit I had forgotten about it until I was alerted to concerns from some in the ice sports community. I was informed that they hadn’t heard anything for almost a year.
My understanding is that the ACT Government remains committed to the project but a number of factors may have lined up against it.
The most obvious is the economic downturn created by COVID-19 and the ability to secure a privately financed facility is diminishing by the day.
As the tender process indicated, the government was prepared to facilitate but not finance the entire build of the project, nor maintain or operate the facility.
If there is a lack of interest from the private sector, is it then up to the ACT Government to offer a better deal to prospective operators?
Prior to COVID-19 there were already financial pressures in the wake of Mr Fluffy, the construction of the light rail and the tourism downturn during the bushfires.
The government is also being canvassed from a number of other sports organisations for amenities including improved basketball facilities, tennis facilities in Gungahlin, and of course there’s the possibility of having to contribute financially to re-open the AIS Arena.
So where does that leave the proposed ACT ice sports facility?
The hope is that there remains interest in the business community to build and operate the rinks. The worry is that the momentum of four years ago has diminished.
At this stage, I presume all options are back on the table, including the possibility of redeveloping the current site at Phillip. And with 2020 being the year of unforeseen circumstances, the ice sports community, like others, can only hope that 2021 will bring good news.