A strong case for a new sports complex in Whitehorse

Currie Dixon, MLA for Copperbelt North

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, May 1st, 2015
by Currie Dixon, Minister of Community Services

In the context of the current debate and discussion about potential track and fields proposed for Whistle Bend, I wanted to provide my perspective as Yukon Minister responsible for sport and recreation. In 2013, the Yukon Soccer Association (YSA) approached the Yukon government for funding support for the planning of what they argued was a much needed addition to Yukon’s recreational infrastructure: a properly-sized artificial turf soccer pitch.

As then Minister of Economic Development, I was pleased to provide funding through the Community Development Fund to develop a conceptual design for a facility that would meet their needs. Through that work, the YSA consulted broadly with many other sport governing bodies and organizations over the winter of 2013-14 and developed a conceptual plan that would accommodate a multitude of sports and user groups. They then brought forward that plan to Yukon government for our consideration.

The YSA pointed out that despite the fact that soccer and track and field sports are exceptionally popular here, Yukon has never had an adequate, properly-sized soccer pitch or an adequate competition-level running track. They noted that multiple users (including dogs and motorized vehicles) and the challenges of Yukon’s weather have combined to leave our existing grass fields in an undesirable condition. Artificial turf would have lower maintenance costs compared to grass, would extend the playing season, and would allow our athletes to compete on surfaces comparable to what their peers in the rest of Canada use. A similar argument applied to the rubberized track.

Needless to say, they made a compelling case, and Yukon government agreed to support the next steps by announcing funding in the spring of 2014. The Yukon Outdoor Sports Complex Association (YOSCA) was formed with representatives from Sport Yukon, Yukon Soccer Association, Athletics Yukon and others. Yukon government and YOSCA agreed to move forward on a phased approach and identified two artificial turf fields and an eight-lane rubberized running track as an appropriate first step.

Yukon government and YOSCA began meeting with the City of Whitehorse in 2014 and through discussions identified an area in Whistle Bend as a desired location. The site was vacant and adjacent to the site of a future school. This location made sense for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that the future school would benefit from access to the complex. So a zoning application was put forward to Mayor and Council.

We explained that Yukon government and YOSCA had entered into an agreement (a Memorandum of Understanding) which outlined the intended arrangement for the complex – that it was to be on Yukon government land, constructed by Yukon government and then leased to YOSCA, which would operate the facility with funding from user groups, advertising and sponsorship.

As I noted to the City of Whitehorse on a number of occasions, we were not seeking a financial contribution from the City. In fact, the facility would be a net financial benefit to the City as Yukon government would be required to pay a grant-in-lieu of taxes, as is the case with all other government-owned properties within City limits.

Despite the strong support expressed by Yukon’s sport community, the assurances provided by Yukon government, and the offer to reduce the scope of the project to address some concerns raised by some Councillors, City Council ultimately decided to deny the zoning request and turn down this opportunity.

While I am obviously disappointed with this decision, I respect that these types of zoning matters are within the mandate of Mayor and Council to make. In the coming weeks I will meet with YOSCA and others in the sport community and determine how to proceed. While we disagree on this issue, I know that there are many other areas where Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse will continue to work together closely. There are far more things upon which we agree than disagree.

Yukon athletes, young and old, competitive and recreational, deserve access to infrastructure that will encourage them to lead healthy active lifestyles, and we are committed to providing such access throughout Yukon.