Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 29, 2016
As the Brian Pallister Progressive Conservatives slowly take the reins from the battered NDP, the coming weeks will be littered with plenty of questions about the future of projects throughout the province. Ideas will begin to percolate as to the funding structures for formerly committed projects, as well as the operational models for complexes currently beholden to government — none bigger than the Keystone Centre.
The Keystone has been closely tied to the NDP government, for better or worse, during its entire tenure in power. Now that the Dippers are in full reboot, it leaves a centre like the Keystone wondering what comes next under a new government.
To be fair, the Keystone has and always will have its place in this community. It is one of the largest economic drivers and fits well with what this region is known for. It also has the good fortune to have a wide swath of political support in our city.
But in a time where terms like “cost cutting” and “fiscal prudence” will be tossed around every department, entities that rely heavily on government funds best be ready for something to change, especially with an aging structure like the Keystone. Its colossal footprint almost dictates that change is highly likely, if not definite.
The discussion for a number of years has swirled around what other forms of revenue a complex like the Keystone could entertain to bring in further opportunity for dollars, all the while forcing staff to scrounge almost daily to battle rising costs and keep the finances in the black.
Naming rights was one of those ideas batted around, but to be honest, it was far less successful than those at the helm would have hoped for. Other options have included selling some of the high-end real estate that faces the street to be repurposed into a commercial venture.
There was a desire at times to attract a provincially mandated facility such as a gaming centre, and even the notion of going to a paid parking system was discussed.
All have their merit, but logistically the last item is the one where the rubber could hit the road (no pun intended).
Now this is all contingent on agreements that are currently in place, but if you take the WHL playoff scenario as an example, there would be merit to implementing a nominal fee to park.
Say for any given event or game, there were 3,600 visitors to the centre at three people per car (which is a low-end estimate). Even if the Keystone were to charge $3 per car, you are still looking at an extra $3,600 in revenue on something the Keystone needs to provide anyway.
Many would argue that it would drive down visitor numbers, but paid parking has pretty much become the norm at smaller facilities of this nature, and is a discussion that will undoubtedly be taking place.
By looking at other communities and in keeping with our hockey theme, the Enmax Centrium in Red
Deer charges $5 to park for events. Comparable venues throughout the league range from free like Brandon’s to $8.50 and up for teams in bigger cities like Calgary and Vancouver.
By no means is paid parking the silver bullet when it comes to revenue generation for the Keystone, but if hockey alone brings in a conservative estimate of $100,000 or more a year in overall revenue (which could be shared with tenants), it does a fair bit to assist on the bottom line.
The will of government will be there to look at other options to maintain the centre, so being proactive as a community should be seen as a must. Without active planning, we will find ourselves behind if and when the Progressive Conservatives come calling, looking to streamline the cost of doing business in the province.
Parking is one of many ideas out there and although maybe not a “big fish” like a commercial development or gaming facility, it does allow leeway for the centre to continue to operate and show some modest growth.
Inevitably the dollars come out of one hand — the taxpayer’s — but it does open up a dialogue on it and probably prompts a few angry rebuttals to this column to boot.
The discussion could and should go beyond just paid parking, however. The Keystone is a public entity and is a shared responsibility of the community. With that responsibility, both politicians and the region at large need to think out loud as to the best way to keep the centre, and its tenants, viable for years to come.