Recreation groups grateful for provincial funds but still worried about the future
Like many other sports facilities across the province, the Antigonish arena has been closed longer than it's been open during the almost two years the COVID-19 virus has been in Nova Scotia.
The arena has been shut down twice during the pandemic — an initial seven-month closure, then an additional five-month one this past year. Even when it's been allowed to operate, restrictions put in place to keep people distanced have meant smaller crowds and much less business.
During a telephone interview Friday, manager Bud MacInnis called the past couple of seasons difficult.
"It was tough," said MacInnis.
"Since the start of COVID, you know, our concessions were shut down and our bar sales were shut down, vending machines were shut down," he said. "And we've been giving credits to all our advertisers for the time the arena has been shut down as well."
'It's tough to make ends meet'
As part of the Nova Scotia government's COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund, the arena has received $50,000 to help offset those losses. It's one of five non-profit recreation groups getting the maximum amount. Grants range from $1,000 to $50,000.
"It basically replaces that money that we lost in advertising revenue and concessions and bar sales and ice rental revenue," said MacInnis. "Certainly grateful to get that support because it's tough for arenas to make ends meet in the best of times."
But he said it wouldn't completely make up for all the arena's pandemic-related losses.
It's the same situation for the YMCA of Cumberland, which has also received $50,000.
Trina Clarke, the Y's chief executive officer, said the Amherst facility has seen its membership rebound to about 900, but that's a quarter fewer than the 1,200 members it had pre-pandemic.
"We definitely appreciate the 50k," said Clarke. "It was a big help, but my concern for our facility is what happens after 2021 because, you know, we still see that the recovery is going to go on well after we're still trying to live beyond the pandemic.
"We were able to use that to help offset a large deficit in our membership. We were also able to use that to help with a small COVID grant to our staff that were able to remain on [the job]."
More challenges remain
With federal aid programs disappearing, Clarke worries about what's to come. "Our fiscal challenges are ahead of us."
John Wadden, manager of the Dominion Arena, was also both grateful and worried.
The province has given the Dominion District Recreation Complex, the group which runs the arena, $40,000.
"Arenas don't make money, so if you can break even and survive, you know you're doing good," said Wadden. "Getting $40,000 is tremendous because everything has a life expectancy, whether it's your Olympia [ice resurfacer], your ice plant, your furnace room, etc., so you have to be prepared almost every year to do stuff."
According to Wadden, this money will go toward part of the cost of replacing a major piece of equipment.
"Our goal is to change the condenser, which is $100,000, and our main [electrical] panel in our plant room, which is $50,000," he said.
COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of major fundraising events, including summertime bingo games, a beer bash and an auction and dance.
"It stopped us cold from doing fundraisers," said Wadden. "That was a huge, huge loss."
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