Taxing tourists could help pay for the expansion of Barrie’s Sadlon Arena.
City councillors gave initial approval Wednesday night to a motion to increase the municipal accommodation tax (MAT) to six from four per cent, effective April 1, 2024, and that this increase pay toward the Bayview Drive facility’s expansion.
“It’s not massive numbers when you consider the cost this (Sadlon Arena) expansion could be. This is just to get us moving forward,” said Coun. Gary Harvey.
Last March, councillors heard a presentation for expanding Sadlon Arena that included six options, ranging in price from $12.3 million to $43.5 million, and increasing the seats from 4,200 now and adding 580 to 1,210 more.
“This is an asset that’s approaching 30 years old and I think it needs to be invested in,” said Coun. Jim Harris. “And I know when it was built it was state of the art, but time has caught up with it.
“Putting the money aside proactively and purposely makes a lot of sense.”
MAT is a four per cent levy on room rates at hotels, motels and AirBnBs. Tourism Barrie is the collection agent, on behalf of the City of Barrie, as the city’s tourism entity and receives 50 per cent of the MAT. This arrangement would be changed so that Tourism Barrie gives its half of the two per cent increase to the city for the Sadlon expansion.
“I don’t want to be going looking for something later on that’s not there,” said Mayor Alex Nuttall. “I’d rather collect (for the reserve) when (the MAT) is collected.”
Harvey’s motion would increase the MAT to six per cent, and create a Sadlon Arena expansion reserve for this new tax.
If eventually approved by city council, that extra two per cent would be worth $596,755 this year (April to December) and $762,000 for all of 2025, Harvey said.
Harvey, who is council’s representative on Tourism Barrie, said in 2023 a total of 650,000 people stayed in Barrie hotels and about 25 per cent of them were from sports tourism.
“Overall, sport tourism is starting to take over and what the hoteliers are seeing is a decrease when it comes to the business stays,” he said. “The tournaments are the ones that are the big drivers in this, because sometimes it’s not even tournaments that are in Barrie. Sometimes some of our own bordering areas don’t have enough hotels, which creates a spin-off into our area.”
Sierra Planning and Management, which authored the Sadlon Arena expansion report, presented six options, details on additional space for the Bayview Drive facility of 659 to 4,592 square metres, renovation space of 355 to 1,226 sq. m., team facilities, including dressing rooms, of 258 to 998 sq. m. , and a new lobby and food court of 561 to 1,804 sq. m.
Only one of the six options included multi-purpose space, of 1,753 sq. m., and it was the option with a $43.5 million price tag.
The preferred option has 5,410 seats, an addition of 4,592 sq. m., a renovation area of 1,226 sq. m., team facilities of 944 sq. m., a new lobby and food court of 1,305 sq. m., no multi-purpose facilities, and a $40.8-million bill.
There is, however, no recent city staff report on expanding Sadlon Arena, and no direction to staff from council to produce one.
The presentation last March came from an $85,000 consultant’s report to assess sport tourism’s needs and growth opportunities at Sadlon Arena, by Sierra.
The former Barrie Molson Centre (BMC) was commissioned in 1995, so it's 29 years old, still relatively modern, but is not going to target larger events which will likely go to facilities that have 5,000 or 6,000 seats.
In August 2021, the former Barrie council looked at resizing Sadlon Arena. A motion was approved that city staff report back before completing and submitting a grant application for the Ontario Community Building Fund's Capital Stream to expand the Bayview Drive facility.
At the time, the expansion would have involved a three-storey addition on the north side of the building, including a new grand entrance to the arena with additional multi-purpose/trade show space, ticket booths, concessions, a multi-use sports bar, additional office and retail space, possibly a new home for the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame. It would also have additional dressing rooms, player dining and lounge facilities, medical facilities, storage and meeting space, a media lounge and VIP lounge, a new sound system, an upgraded green room along with additional spectator seating too bring its total to about 5,000.
Wednesday night’s motion was approved in the city’s finance and responsible governance committee meeting. It still requires general committee and then city council approval.