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Hockey community unhappy despite capacity increases

City ups spectator limit to 45 at satellite arenas, citing screening, lack of buffer time between events.
Robin's Tournament 1

THUNDER BAY – After mounting pressure from users groups, the City of Thunder Bay has agreed to increase spectator capacity at its six satellite arenas to 45.

But Kelly Robertson, the city’s general manager of services, says there is no practical way to further increase the number given the amount of time needed to process each person entering the rink, the lack of buffer time between rentals and the coming requirements for all users to be vaccinated starting on Sept. 22.

The city initially agreed to allow between 17 and 43 spectators.

Despite the increase, the hockey community is still not happy and are demanding provincial guidelines be followed, allowing the smaller of either 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 spectators.

Advocate Lex MacArthur calls the "arbitrary" application of the new capacity figures unacceptable, stating in a Facebook post that the hockey community has done all that’s been asked of it while pointing out that vaccination rates in those 12 and older will soon reach 80 per cent.

“It is unacceptable that the same restrictions are being applied as last fall when vaccination rates were zero. Our only request is that provincial guidelines are followed in our arenas allowing 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 spectators, whichever is the smaller number,” MacArthur said.

“Fifteen minutes outside the city, in Oliver-Paipoonge, Mayor Lucy Kloosterhuis and her team have figured it out. The Norwest arena is allowing 275 spectators.”

Robertson said the situation is different in Oliver Paipoonge. The community is allowing the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Kam River Fighting Walleye to have up to 275 spectators at their games, but the township has also cancelled ice bookings for an hour prior to their games to allow longer entry times. 

That’s not possible in the city’s satellite arenas, without severely reducing ice capacity, and the problem is only going to get worse when vaccination proof is required for entry.

It currently takes on average about 14 seconds to process someone at an arena door.

“Next Wednesday, that whole process becomes more complicated because of proof of vaccination. We still have to do cleaning between user groups and dressing rooms – high-touch areas. We have limited staff at our satellite indoor arenas,” Robertson said.

“For many of the activities, how much higher do you really have to go than 45 spectators in the stands? There could be some, and if we’re willing to look at cancelling existing ice bookings to increase spectator capacity, if we can find more staff to help with COVID checking and proof of vaccination, if we can maintain the physical distancing in the very small public areas of our indoor satellite arenas, these would be some of the requirements that have to be in place in order for us to exceed and meet those higher spectator capacities.”

The city initially took the square footage of the spectator area and divided it by eight to come up with a capacity limit at each arena. After speaking with Thunder Bay Fire Rescue and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, they determined 45 to be a number that could be safely handled.

Robertson said the city has yet to determine a capacity limit at Fort William Gardens, home to both the SIJHL’s Thunder Bay North Stars and the Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s hockey team. 

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 19 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Wants his Expos back. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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