DARTMOUTH – Halifax’s long awaited Arena Strategy is coming before Regional Council on Tuesday and, so far, it’s the proposed closure of the 87-year-old Halifax Forum that has been attracting all the attention. There is, however, an important decisions to be made on the Dartmouth side of the Harbour: where to build the new Dartmouth Arena?
The proposed Dartmouth Arena will have 3 or 4 ice surfaces and will result in the closure of the Gray, Bowles and Lebrun Arenas and, possibly, the Centennial Arena. The Dartmouth Arena will be a regional facility that will not only serve the Dartmouth community, but Halifax as whole. It needs good transportation connections and proximity to people and services. Nine possible sites were identified and municipal staff are recommending a location on Commodore Drive in the Burnside Industrial Park. Staff are also recommending taking a second look at Shannon Park as a possible location, but given that Canada Lands has just acquired it from the Department of National Defence, it seems unlikely to pan out. Commodore Drive is the cheapest and simplest site to develop, but it’s actually a terrible location and the height of penny-wise pound-foolish thinking.
Recreational facilities should be located in communities and signature facilities like the Dartmouth Arena should be somewhere prominent. Commodore Drive is none of these things. The Commodore Drive site is adjacent to an existing soccer field, football field and the new volleyball courts, but, other than that, it’s next to nobody. On one end of Commodore Drive, there is Big Box shopping at Dartmouth Crossing and, on the other end, a few office buildings and warehouse-style strip development. The nearest residential community, Highfield Park, is over 2.5 kilometers away on the other side of the Circumferential Highway. Municipal staff tout the “synergies” of locating the new Arena next to the existing municipal fields and volleyball courts, but, apart from sharing locker rooms and maybe a canteen, it’s difficult to see how soccer, football and volleyball relate to ice rinks. This feels more like an impulse to lump sports uses together regardless of whether there is actually a real benefit to doing so.
Commodore Drive is fairly accessible by car. Its industrial/Big Box location comes with wide multi-lane roadways, but the low-density and segregation of uses in the area means that transit service is fairly weak. Since there is almost nothing on Commodore Drive, except the existing sports fields, there is no Metro Transit bus service along the length of the street. Bus #66 comes close to the Commodore Drive site, looping along Brownlow and Eileen Stubbs Avenues, but it doesn’t operate through Burnside on weekends and doesn’t connect to Dartmouth’s main transit hub, the Bridge Terminal. Hockey leagues are one of the main uses of ice surfaces in Halifax and, to be fair, it’s unlikely that hockey players, with all their gear, are going to travel by public transit if they have any alternatives. Transit could work well though for other uses such as figure and speed skating as well as public open skates, all of which regularly occur in the arenas that the new facility will replace. Spectators and employees might also want to come by transit. Commodore Drive does not encourage people to leave their cars at home, it encourages them to drive.
Although the recommended Commodore Drive location is less than ideal, municipal staff did identify a great location in Dartmouth at Maybank Field.
Maybank Field is located at the corner of Woodland Avenue and Micmac Boulevard and is currently home to three ball fields and a small park and ride lot. The location is readily accessible by car from the Circumferential Highway and four bus routes (#10, 56, 66, 72) go right pass it with another two (#54, 55) stopping at the nearby Micmac Mall Terminal. The #10 bus connects to Dartmouth’s Bridge Terminal and runs on a 30 minute schedule from 6:30 till midnight, 7 days a week. Maybank is adjacent to Micmac Mall where commercial services exist and it is right next to residential development in Horizon Ridge, Lancaster Ridge and Crichton Park. Crichton Park School is also just a short distance away, creating a ready opportunity for fitness and after-school programs. Maybank Field is in an existing residential area with great highway and transit connections and access to services. While Commodore Drive is next to nothing, Maybank is in proximity to everything.
The biggest problem with Maybank is that three existing ball fields (2 are back to back sharing an outfield) would need to be relocated. This doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle. Locating a ball field is a lot easier than locating a large facility like a 4-pad rink. Ball fields are best spread out so that they can be used by organized leagues and informally by the surrounding neighbourhood. If keeping a ball field in the Crichton Park area is important for the neighbourhood, the City could look at acquiring the vacant land at the corner of Woodland Avenue and Lancaster Drive (kitty-corner to Maybank) or turning one of the two soccer fields on the other side of Micmac Boulevard into a ball field. Alternatively, the City could replace the Maybank ball fields on one of the rejected 4-pad sites or on the property of one of the to be closed facilities such as the Gray Arena. The City could even look at a way outside-the-box solution of moving the ball fields across the street and putting one of the two soccer fields on the roof of the new 4-plex. The rectangular shape of a soccer field makes it a better fit for a rooftop than a ball field and it’s easier to keep soccer balls in the field. A quick glance at the BMO Centre in Bedford (also a 4-plex) shows the roof could be large enough. It has been done before in other places including Miami, San Diego and Tokyo.
A rooftop field may not be feasible in a climate like Dartmouth’s where winter snow loads are a concern, but the point is there are plenty of conventional and even unconventional ways of relocating the ball fields. Maybank Field is a much better location for Dartmouth’s new arena than Commodore Drive and a mix of sports uses can still be maintained in Crichton Park.
And yet, staff favour Commodore Drive. I reviewed the Concept Design Report and the site scoring system to try and figure out why. Scoring matrixes are always somewhat subjective and the scoring seems to have been unduly harsh on Maybank and overly generous for Commodore. The report is available online, but it’s not attached to Regional Council’s agenda for Tuesday. Unless they go looking for it or read it back in 2012, Councillors will only receive the executive summary. Commodore Drive received pity points on being in the Regional Centre (it’s not) and on being close to residential. It also seemed to score higher than it should have for access to transit, having adjacent parking, being on a bicycle route and pedestrian accessibility. The arbitrariness of it all is revealed when you consider that Maybank was penalized for not having a sidewalk on both sides of the street, while Commodore got points for pedestrian access, despite being located in a car-centric part of the city where few people ever walk. Maybank was also scored harshly in many site suitability criteria, despite the architectural report which noted that a 4-pad arena that is very close to Halifax’s generic template can work on the site. A whole post could be written on the scoring, but suffice it to say, it feels slanted in favour of Commodore Drive. This is likely because Commodore Drive is cheaper and easier to build on, and that’s what’s really driving the recommendation to Council.
Commodore Drive may be the cheapest site to develop, but it’s important to keep perspective on the kind of facility that is being proposed. The facilities that the new Dartmouth Arena will replace are, on average, 30 years old. The Halifax Forum has been around for 87 years! The choice of location for Dartmouth’s Arena is a long-term decision that will be with us for generations. With that time-scale in mind, it’s worth spending a little bit more money to get it right. Maybank Field may not be as pad-ready as Commodore Drive, but it’s a better choice in all the measures that count over the long-term. The City needs to keep the Regional Plan’s goal of getting more people living in the Regional Centre and getting people out of their cars in mind. From that perspective, Maybank Field is, by far, the better choice. Council would be wise to take a second look.
Great piece. I’m glad you point out how poor transit service is, and likely will always be, at the proposed Commodore Drive location. By comparison, the Maybanks site is a great spot for transit, now and in the foreseeable future.
The transit problem is part of a bigger problem – as a society we seem to have forgotten about value, which is how much you get out of something, as opposed to cost, which is simply how much you pay for something. We cheap out short term and pay for it – not always monetarily. Low costs and efficiency should always be big considerations, but thinking about value captures those good things, along with so much more.
The burnside location by the all weather fields won’t work and the maybank field spot would be the best. if you close a rink in north dartmouth and dartmouth south/woodside it would have to be in the same area doesn’t it, but then a again they close akerley arena when they built bmo center. whats next tey will look at shutting down the eastern shore rink and make them drive to the new dartmouth arena
My concern for the Maybanks is the loss of other well used ball and soccer fields.
You mention that the ball fields could be relocated to other parks in the community – but which parks? Do they have room to add ball fields? Would something else be pushed out to give room for the ball fields? or over to the soccer fields – the soccer fields are well used as well. Where will they go? The idea of a rooftop soccer field is interesting but would cost a lot for to use than the current grass fields which would cause it to be inaccessible to many users. It would be an awesome idea for downtown Halifax though.
I’m not opposed to the Commodore site. Transit could easily be brought to the site – it should already be there to begin with the soccer fields, etc – that’s a whole other issue. The location is regional central and easily accessible by areas just outside of Dartmouth – people from other areas use these rinks as well and participate in the programs. It’s not necessarily Dartmouth Central though.
I wish staff would do complete research when looking into these long term projects. Even some of the questions I have asked could have been easily researched by staff. That way, like you said, this is a long term plan that people have to live with the consequences of for at least the next 25/30+ years. Let’s do it right and get all the information before it’s decided upon.
I can’t stand how we just don’t do that and it’s an acceptable practice by HRM staff.
Point well taken Gina. Getting the Arena in closer to the city shouldn’t be done at the expense of losing existing community infrastructure, especially if it’s well used. I feel we can have both though. Maybank Field is in a neighbourhood, but it’s also readily accessible to the larger region (at least as much as Commodore). Your post did prompt me to go back and take a second look though and I feel like I missed the really obvious solution to the ball diamond problem. It appears that there is actually some undeveloped land right on the Crichton Park School property. If you look at the map in my post, the area I’m referring to is the wooded section right next to the school behind the homes on Lyngby Avenue and Louis Court. It appears in property mapping to be included with the school lands. You could build a new soccer field on that land and then put the ball diamonds on one of the existing soccer fields. Better to rearrange the fields to keep the ball diamonds away from homes since the baseballs tend to fly out of play much more regularly and have the potential to do more damage. The immediate neighbourhood would end up with 2 diamonds and 2 soccer fields so it would be down one diamond, but it would gain 4 ice surfaces and better facilities for the existing sports fields. I think that would be a net win for Crichton Park as well as Dartmouth as a whole. If needed, the third diamond could, hopefully, be situated elsewhere in Dartmouth, perhaps in an area that is currently lacking in infrastructure.
Good article, i appreciate seeing other designs and ideas. I’ll start of by saying that I play soccer, volleyball and hockey. I’m at the commodore location for volleyball and soccer 2-3 times a week in the summer and it’s great. It’s quick to get to coming off the McKay bridge (Maybank would be similar). Comming from Cole Harbour or Fall River would be similarly accessible in either location. The commodore location is easier for people from Bedford and Sackville to get to.
The new 4 pad as you indicated will primarily used for hockey and people will not be using transit regardless of the location. I support using transit and keeping your car at home but I’ll never be going on a bus with a stinky hockey bag. The spectators will be the parents and they will be driving too regardless of the location. That leaves public skates which is a valid point. I would suggest using The Dartmouh Sportsplex. It has public skating and is very accessible by transit. Moreover you wouldn’t need to find a new home for a ball diamond.
This is a bit minor because you were just putting out ideas but the land that you proposed for the ball field behind Lyngby Avenue, Maybank soccer fields and Crichton park is on a fairly large hill and would likely be unsuitable.
Thanks for the alternative view. I’ll be happy either way as long as it gets build. I just hope they do a better job designing the dressing rooms than they did at the BMO center. 2 showers for one dressing room doesn’t cut it for a full hockey team.
Also, the main synergy that I can see is shared parking. This is ideal with primarily winter usage with the rinks and summer usage with the fields. I know driving isn’t the way for forward for most forward thinking urban plans but when it comes to hockey, your driving,
Great article as usual Sam! Maybanks is an interesting idea, deserving of consideration. I agree with your concerns about the Commodore location, but as someone who regularly visits the soccer fields there and has bussed through Burnside, I wonder whether siting the new rink there would convince Halifax Transit to route a new or existing bus route through there. Burnside is woefully underserviced by public transit – perhaps a concentration of sports facilities there would create a critical mass, sparking improvement.
Thanks Mary and Michael. Mary, you’re right, situating the new Arena on Commodore Drive might encourage Metro Transit to send a bus down it and into Dartmouth Crossing. That would be a big plus. Burnside is one of HRM’s major employment centres and will always be an important destination. The problem with Burnside in the bigger picture is the way its laid out with low-density land-uses and hostile design for transit. There’s really no reason that the buildings, even the semi-industrial ones, couldn’t have been up close to the streets with the vast swaths of parking behind them. That would have made running a bus through a lot easier! Planning usually focuses on minimum setbacks to prevent buildings from coming to close to the street. I sometimes think we need the reverse, maximum setbacks to keep things close to the street where transit and sidewalks are! Burnside’s monoculture of uses also means that transit pretty much only really works as a commuter service. There is just not enough demand outside of business hours. I have some hope that the residential development along Wrights Cove may transform part of the park into a more varied place. Time will tell.
I hate all the multimillion dollar rinks, especially at this expense of ball fields. Dartmouth is as much (or more so) a baseball city as it ever was a hockey city.
As to the Maybank location,do you not think that access to anything there would mean hundreds more cars on Woodland avenue,which is the main access to the MacDonald bridge for many many people.Also many cars are now coming from a 4 lane divided highway to a 2 lane residential street,resulting in speeding trying to beat the 2 sets of traffic lights at Lancaster and at Victoria Road.
Can you imagine the back up of cars turning left onto MicMac Boulevard toward the Maybank area for sporting events as well as access to Micmac mall?
Hi Charles. A traffic study would no doubt be needed to see what impact the 4-pad might have. The area is busy in the AM and PM rush hours. I suspect sporting events wouldn’t interfere with that very often because of varied hours. It would need to be looked at. It’s kind of moot since after I wrote this, Council went ahead and approved Commodore. Site prep is well underway out in Burnside so the ship has sailed. The Lancaster/Woodland/Mic Mac intersection does need work. It’s a real hazard with the high speeds that people go through there at if the light is green.