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Oake family eyes arena property for addictions facility; competing group says they were snubbed by city





An old hockey arena that’s been shuttered for three years is suddenly a hot commodity.

The City of Winnipeg has offered the Vimy Arena property, in the Crestview neighbourhood, as the potential new home for a $14-million, 50-bed, long-term addictions recovery facility.

However, a local community group that helps people with intellectual disabilities also wants the arena building for its employment and recreational programming -- and they’re upset with city officials, who they say have repeatedly refused to deal with them.

The competing interest is troubling the area councillor, who says Mayor Brian Bowman and senior administration officials have clearly favoured one group over the other.

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An old hockey arena that’s been shuttered for three years is suddenly a hot commodity.

The City of Winnipeg has offered the Vimy Arena property, in the Crestview neighbourhood, as the potential new home for a $14-million, 50-bed, long-term addictions recovery facility.

Coun. Shawn Dobson (St. Charles)</p>

Coun. Shawn Dobson (St. Charles)

However, a local community group that helps people with intellectual disabilities also wants the arena building for its employment and recreational programming — and they’re upset with city officials, who they say have repeatedly refused to deal with them.

The competing interest is troubling the area councillor, who says Mayor Brian Bowman and senior administration officials have clearly favoured one group over the other.

"There have been no consultation with myself or the area residents," said Coun. Shawn Dobson. "The discussions to turn the arena over to an addictions recovery centre have taken place behind closed doors, when a local group has been here all along who also wants that property."

Dobson (St. Charles) said Bowman only told him last weekend the city is considering offering the Vimy Arena as the home for the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre. However, Dobson said Employment Opportunities West wants to consolidate its two, smaller offices, at the arena site.

"Talks have been going on for months behind closed doors with the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre people, but city officials refuse to talk to Employment Opportunities – that’s just not right," he said.

Bowman denied Wednesday he had kept Dobson in the dark, adding while discussions with national hockey broadcaster Scott Oake have been ongoing for several months, city hall couldn’t disclose those talks until the province only recently agreed to get involved.

"The reason Coun. Dobson is talking about this is because I phoned him over the weekend," Bowman said. "We’ve been talking to Scott Oake for some time… We need more long-term treatment facilities for those suffering from opioid addictions. So, when Scott Oake presents a vision, we should at least listen and see if it’s possible to support that vision being fulfilled. I support that vision."

Bowman said an administrative report will be coming to city council that recommends turning the arena property over to the province, which would in turn transfer it for the recovery centre. The mayor said community consultations would occur when the arena property is rezoned for the group-home use.

The pending transfer of the arena for the addictions recovery facility has puzzled Employment Opportunities West.

"I’ve been calling them for six months, wondering when the property would be made available to the public, and each time they said they were doing their due diligence, working on property lines," said Susan Morgan, executive director of Employment Opportunities West.

Morgan said she’s convinced the city refused to deal with her group in order to prepare the old arena site for the addictions recovery centre, adding the city never followed its own policies to issue a formal request for expressions of interest on the property.

"The city didn’t even give us the time of day," Morgan said. "We’re just as worthy as the other (group) and we’re in the community already."

Scott Oake said he had approached Bowman several months ago, asking if the city could donate property for a project to honour his son, Bruce, who died of a drug overdose in 2011.

The Oake family set up the Bruce Oake Memorial Fund as a way to finance the establishment of a long-term treatment facility. Oake said the family is committed to building the treatment centre and has partnered with a Calgary operation, Fresh Start, to run the Winnipeg facility.

The Winnipeg resident said while the expansive, park-like setting of the Vimy Arena is perfect for the proposed centre's needs, another surplus city property might do. However, Oake said he expects an administrative report supporting the treatment centre plans to go to council in November or December.

"We want this land sooner than later because we have a lot of people eager to contribute," Oake said, adding having title to the property will be key to a public fundraising campaign. The plans call for the construction of a 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot facility with the possibility of a future expansion.

"The city wants to transfer the land to the province, and the province will give it to us," Oake said. "We hope that the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre will be where the Vimy Arena currently sits, but we have no guarantees right now."

Oake said the foundation will present its plans to the neighbourhood as part of the rezoning process.

"Given that we don’t have the land and there has been no transfer, it would be presumptuous of us to start holding community meetings or start canvassing the neighbourhood," Oake said. "We will do that if there is a transfer, but we’ll do it properly.

"And properly means according to the rezoning process, where every citizen can air his or her concerns and we will do our best to address them and we'll do our best to educate people, no many how many public meetings it will take."

Oake said he understands people would be concerned if a large number of recovering drug addicts were to move into their neighbourhood.

"I know the base concern of most people is this notion of roving gangs of drug addicts that will terrorize the neighbourhood," he said. "Quite contrary, this will be a state-of-the-art facility that will be a credit to the neighbourhood and occupied by men committed to their sobriety."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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