Did a brewery and a private skate space derail a new public park?
by Paul Dechene
When Mark McMorris won Team Canada’s first medal in the Sochi Olympics — a bronze in the slopestyle event — he became a national hero. And a local one. Here’s this Regina kid kicking ass on an international stage, and with a broken rib no less. He did us proud.
David Chapados, a long time volunteer and employee for SK8 Regina, remembers McMorris from the days when the future Olympian was a skateboarder who sometimes honed his skills at Regina’s public indoor skateboard park.
MTV even filmed an episode of McMorris’ reality show, McMorris & McMorris, at that facility.
That “late lamented” facility, I should say, as the City of Regina demolished it this summer to make way for construction of our new, $278 million stadium.1
“It was unreal,” Chapados says of the old indoor skateboard park. “I think for a lot of kids, especially where it was situated, it was a good chance to have a positive place to go in a kind of rougher neighbourhood with not a lot of good options. You’d get some pretty rough kids and kids out from the east and north end, and everyone got along.
“We got people coming from out of town and from all over Canada, and [they’d] be blown away by how great the scene is in Regina. No one would expect that but there were a ton of kids who got insanely good because of that place.”
And while Chapados is sad that the indoor facility is gone, he admits the building maybe needed to come down.
“It was not in the best shape by any means,” he says.
As for the city’s efforts to find a replacement public, indoor skateboard park, council had directed administration to work with SK8 Regina to search for a new facility. But according to Chris Holden, the city’s director of community services, finding one is not at the top of the to-do list because it turns out there’s a private, indoor skateboard park in the city, the 306 Shop, to which the city’s website is directing skaters.
Which is great, except the newer private shop is noticeably more expensive than the old public option. 306 Shop charges $5 an hour to access the skateboard park. Sk8 Regina’s public park charged $3 a day. For low-income families, that can make a huge difference.2
Also, an awkward fact about 306 Skate: it’s owned and operated by Andrew Hincks, the son of Ward 9 councillor, Terry Hincks, a member of the council that voted to tear down the old public skateboard park.
Holden says that’s just a coincidence though, and it wasn’t until after the city had exhausted an initial search for a new site for the SK8 Regina facility that his department even knew this private facility existed. It was Councillor Bryce, in fact, not Hincks, who brought it to community services’ attention in a meeting Prairie Dog attended.
“I can tell you that [Councillor Hincks] was quite quiet through the conversations period,” said Holden. “It came out at the end when we weren’t able to find another location and our acknowledgement there really isn’t another indoor skateboard opportunity in Regina. And then it was, ‘Well there is one.’”
And while Holden calls the 306 Shop “a pretty neat shop,” he concedes that it’s about half the size of the old, public facility.
“It’s not a warehouse so it’s in the basement of one of those strip malls,” says Holden. “The roof isn’t as high, so his half pipe isn’t as high. But that’s really not what it’s about. They still have ample space to board. I’d break my neck I’m sure. But if you’re a kid skateboarding you can still get a fairly good experience skateboarding in the facility that he has.”
Chapados is aware of the other facility but says that it isn’t really sufficient for his skating needs.
“It’s a lot smaller,” he says. “I think it’s really easy for the city to be like, ‘Great someone else is doing something so we’ll just wash our hands and not deal with it.’ But it’s nowhere close. It’s awesome what [Andrew Hincks] has going on. It’s great! But it can’t facilitate all the skateboarders in the city.”
Holden notes though that another complication in finding a new facility is that current commercial rental rates for a warehouse are just too costly for the recreation budget to absorb. He says that the old Sk8 Regina facility cost about $35,000 a year but renting a new building from a private landowner would cost at least $100,000.
Funny thing though: Regina actually owns a warehouse space. And many of the people I’ve spoken to in the skateboarding community suspect it would have been perfect for an indoor skateboard park.
Problem is, it might not be available because it’s currently occupied by the District Brewing Company.
This was all revealed at the April 29 council meeting. Turns out, the Optimist Gymnastics Association of Regina (OGAR) owned a warehouse they’d bought off the city for one dollar — the catch being that, according to their agreement, the city would be able to buy the building back for a dollar if OGAR ever stopped using it for gymnastics.
Well, OGAR stopped using it for gymnastics back in 2004. And in 2012 they rented it out to District Brewing for what City administration termed well below the market rate.
Another awkward fact is listed in the city’s April 29 report (emphasis mine): “A review of corporation searches for OGAR and [District Brewing] shows there are two common directors for [District Brewing] and OGAR, with other directors for [District Brewing] being related to these two common directors.”
At that meeting, council directed city administration to buy back the building — which they did on June 16, 2013 — and then provide council a report on how the current tenant, District Brewing, should be dealt with.
According to Don Barr, the city’s director of real estate, that report on what to do with District Brewing will be considered at some point in the first quarter of 2014.
In the meantime, even though District Brewing’s acquisition and use of the space might be controversial, they’ve made themselves quite comfortable. They’re selling their beer, Müs Knuckle3, and ads for it adorn the exterior of many city buses.
It’s also worth noting that even if the city wanted to turn the OGAR warehouse into an athletics space — as it was originally intended — it may not be possible as District Brewing Company has made renovations to accommodate their beer operation.
Of course, as long as the city is renting one of their buildings out to a brewery that means they’ll be collecting market-rate rent on a commercial warehouse every year.
I wonder what that kind of money could pay for?
1. Remember that number is only the $278 million we were expecting to spend building the stadium back when council approved the financing plan early last year. Operations and maintenance were expected to cost another $355 million. But, as council just discovered, the $100 million debt the provincial government is helping us secure to help construction costs will have a slightly higher interest rate and be paid off over a slightly longer period than initially anticipated. Staff estimate that could add another $13 million to the bill. And we haven’t even negotiated terms yet for the extra $67.4 million in debt the city will be taking on. And then there’s millions in interim debt the city will also be taking on to meet timelines as the project moves forward. All told, before any prices started to creep up due to inflation, the city expected in Jan. 2013 to be paying $405 million out of its coffers over the next 30 years. That averages to $13.5 million — each year — for the stadium. But $100 thousand a year for an indoor skateboard park is deemed too expensive.
2. Staff at 306 Skate say they will lower their prices for kids who can’t afford to pay them, and that’s good. Still, an informal discount is no replacement for a facility that’s guaranteed to be affordable for everyone.
3. The name “Müs Knuckle” is presumably a reference to the crotch bulge a man has when his pants are too tight and hiked up too far.