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Hockey community raises concerns over arena limits

City of Thunder Bay to reconsider spectator limits for arenas after outcry from hockey community.
Robin's Tournament
Capacity limits at city arenas like the Port Arthur Arena have raised concerns in the local hockey community. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – Mayor Bill Mauro says the City of Thunder Bay will take a second look at capacity limits for municipal satellite hockey arenas, after a barrage of complaints from the local hockey community.

On social media and in emails to city councillors, ice users and parents of children in hockey programs have raised concerns the limits established by the city appear to be lower than those in place at arenas run by other organizations.

The city has advised of spectator limits of 27 at the Current River Arena, 17 at the Delaney Arena, 15 at the Grandview Arena, 17 at the Neebing Arena, and 43 at the Port Arthur Arena.

Under the province’s current Stage 3 regulations, indoor sports facilities can operate at 50 per cent of their fire code capacity, with spectator areas specifically also limited to 50 per cent capacity.

In a message to city councillors posted online by the hockey community, the city’s general manager of community services Kelly Robertson explained how those levels had been arrived at.

Since fire code occupancy limits don’t define capacity for bleacher seating at the arenas, the city took the seating area in square metres and divided by eight, she said – a method outlined in Step 2 legislation.

Some online suggested that meant the method could be out of date, with the province having since moved into Step 3.

Robertson said the approach had been supported by city staff and the health unit, however.

“Defining spectator capacity based on the square meter area of the bleachers was endorsed by Legal Services and Corporate Safety,” she wrote. “Subsequent discussions with public health suggested that we were applying legislation appropriately to the particulars of our facilities”

However, given concerns from ice users, the city would be “working with the authorities to explore an alternative method to calculate spectator capacity,” Robertson said.

Mauro said that was the right approach.

“We’re all cognizant of the seriousness of COVID and the Delta variant,” he said. “That’s a guiding principle, for sure – none of us want to do anything that will make that situation worse. At the same time, we want to ensure as best we’re able that we’re interpreting the regulations, or the lack thereof, in an appropriate way.”

Mauro cited a need to make the decision “relatively quickly.”

“Most municipalities, their rinks are open already, so we’re a little behind here,” he said. “We need to get up to speed as quickly as we can.”

Spectator limits don’t prevent parents and guardians from entering arenas to assist their child with dressing and entering the ice, Robertson noted. However, they must promptly leave the facility once their child is on ice if the spectator area is full.