/Allowing beer at the arena brews spirited discussion
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Allowing beer at the arena brews spirited discussion

By Sue Tiffin

Beer will soon be available at Huskies’ games, but so will an alcohol-free ‘family zone,’ at the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena.

In a report to Minden Hills council Oct. 4, Craig Belfry, director of community services, said there was a need to expand the licensable areas for liquor sales beyond the community centre for potential future events in the facility, and also allow game day sales of alcohol as an “economic driver” for the Haliburton County Huskies Junior A hockey team. The topic had first been broached in April, but Belfry had been asked by councillors then to offer more information. 

Last week, he told council the township would have to modify its existing licence with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to extend the licensable area to the gym activity space; the ice rink during off-season; the viewing area and lobby area; ice rink seating and the warm viewing area.

To enable the Huskies to sell alcohol at their games without having to apply for a special occasion permit at a cost of $150 for each of their 22 regular season home games, Belfry recommended that council declare each of their home games as “events of municipal significance,” issuing a letter about declaring playoff games municipally significant events as well once dates are determined.

The Huskies had also requested that the sale of alcohol be permitted in the ice rink seating area.

“As the township recognizes that the Haliburton Huskies are an important tenant, and that their games will have an economic impact on the municipality as whole, staff believe that alcohol sales should be granted in the ice rink seating area, however, staff also believe that an area should also be reserved as a ‘family zone’ for those patrons who wish to sit in such an area where no alcohol is permitted,” said Belfry. “An area of 54 seats at the northeast end of the seating area can be sectioned off and clearly marked and signed for this designation, and would be under the game day supervision of the Halliburton Huskies. This area is also furthest away from the point of alcohol sales.”

While councillors largely agreed on expanding the licensable areas, they had much to say on the topic of beer and designated seating at the games.

Mayor Brent Devolin told councillors that when he went to the homeopener game on Oct. 2, he met with the owners of the Huskies and said everyone was willing “to see how it goes, whether it’s problematic or not and they’re malleable on a go-forward basis as additional things need to be added.”

“Let me start off categorically by saying I like hockey and I like beer,” said Councillor Bob Carter. “Those aren’t the issues.” He said he was concerned about the family atmosphere, that 88 per cent of the facility would be made available for alcohol while only 12 per cent would not, and that he thought a compromise of 50/50 was important to ensure the arena was more family-oriented.

“I am still of a mind that we should be limiting the sale of alcohol in the stands, particularly in the first year until we see how it’s going,” he said, noting he thought availability of beer should be limited to the warm viewing area and the bar. “Right now, the idea of 54 seats or whatever it was being used as the family zone, that’s less than 12 per cent of the capacity of the facility, which doesn’t seem to be a very family-friendly approach. I don’t know what the right number is but I can tell you that right now, I can tell you that the family zone should be 390 seats, which is all the stands, and we see how it goes.”

Councillor Jean Neville said she disagreed with Carter.

“It has been an uphill battle even to get the renovations done, through COVID, through vaccine clinic, why we’re throwing more obstacles in the way of this opportunity to have a Junior A hockey team here, I don’t understand. Why are we going to worry about things that might not happen? … I’m sure that people who are going to be drinking there, I’m sure are drinking at home in front of their children as well, so I don’t know why we’re throwing more roadblocks in the way of this excellent opportunity for our municipality.”

In a report to Minden Hills council Oct. 4, Craig Belfry, director of community services, said there was a need to expand the licensable areas for liquor sales beyond the community centre for potential future events in the facility, and also allow game day sales of alcohol as an “economic driver” for the Haliburton County Huskies Junior A hockey team.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell agreed with Neville.

“I think we can leave it as it is, give it a try, there’s no reason why we can’t pull it back later if there’s an issue and change the policy, but I mean you can sit at the Blue Jays game in every seat pretty much and have a beer, so I think until we have an issue I probably would have it open as the director has suggested.”

Councillor Pam Sayne said she agreed with Carter, and that she didn’t feel he was trying to block the situation.

“I think we have supported this rink in many, many ways from the Scouts [hall] to the use of the gym to the two dedicated washrooms, to the timing of … I think we’ve done a lot,” she said. “I have raised in the past that I would like to see the municipality have some interest in the sale of the liquor. I realize it’s very expensive to run this team, but we have to remember, this is a private company. We’re not working with a municipal company and we have to treat them the same as we would any other group in agreement. I am concerned with the perceived bias.”

Sayne also said she was concerned allowing drinking at the game would compete with the drinking establishments downtown.

Devolin responded, “from a technical point of view, junior hockey teams in Ontario might be technically for profit, but from a practical point of view, at best they break even and most of them are subsidized by their owners to be perfectly honest, so that they’re taking bags of money out of the community is preposterous. Over $100,000 in improvements to the facility, already, the economic activity that it’s spurned, those downtown establishments are excited beyond belief with the comings and goings of the events with hockey and the other types of events that we’ll have that will be licensed in the facility, they’re ecstatic about it. It brings people to town, they’ll maybe have a meal before or after the event.” 

“I don’t see how this is competing with downtown businesses at all,” said Schell. “If this is a concert or something that was coming, you’re paying a ticket to get in. If you were going to serve alcohol – or any kind of dance or party – we wouldn’t say that was competing with the downtown businesses. I don’t think people are going to come into town and decide to buy a hockey ticket so they can drink some beer at night. If they’re not interested in hockey, they’re going to go to the establishments that serve alcohol downtown.”

“Councillor Carter’s going on the assumption that the parents and adults that are there are not responsible parents and adults, and I guarantee you they’re a lot more responsible than they were in my day,” said Neville. “I know darn well that if a family’s going out, they will make sure they have a designated driver, and nobody’s going to sit there and get hammered. … When my kids were playing hockey there were lots of hockey moms and hockey dads that made lots of altercations without any alcohol present, so I don’t just see why we are nitpicking about this. If there’s a problem we can dial it back.”

“I can’t predict who’s going to drink too much and drive from that hockey rink and I don’t want to pretend that I could,” responded Sayne. “And I can’t pretend that everybody is going to be safe there. I certainly hope so. I don’t think that is even an issue here. That is something we have across wherever in terms of where there’s drinking. My focus is on – what we’re seemingly trying to do here is separate drinking from the hockey establishment, and I don’t want to do that. If I go with children to this hockey game and we’re cheering, and I want a cold beer, I don’t want to have to change my seating to do that. I also don’t expect to use this as a drinking establishment. I want to make sure that we’re not competing with our downtown establishments, and I think having a cold beer and watching a hockey game is very different than having a bar to go to. I want to make sure we’re marketing hockey and not a place for drinking.”

“My sole argument here is on the serving or use of liquor in the stands,” said Carter. “You know, I believe that there are people – including myself – who don’t mind going to a hockey or baseball game and having a cold beer while they watch, but I also understand there are people who want to have a more family environment which does not include having people drinking alcohol around them. I’m just trying to respect the wishes of the total population. I just feel that having only the 54 [seats] which is again, 12 per cent of the capacity to be the family proportion is just not enough. I’m looking to come up with some better number. That’s solely my position. I don’t really care about anything else, except trying to respect those people.”

Devolin said the third section of the seats could be the family section, and additional signage could be put into place.  Belfry agreed, and said the Huskies could survey their season ticket holders on their preference. Sayne asked if, rather than separate sections, the alcohol might be allowed in some rows and seats.

“I think having been to enough sporting events, that if we’re doing it that way I would say it would be less successful, because if somebody upsets a beer, it can go a couple of rows up or down, where if they’re segregated way over there, short of somebody picking a beer glass up and throwing it, half the length of the arena, it’s very unlikely,” said Devolin. “Also, conversations or you’re worried about those that might have a drink, might say some things that are less family appropriate – I think if we physically separate them it would be a lot more successful than trying to do it row by row.”

“OK, just to say I would hope that we don’t end up in those situations with this and that’s why I kind of like the idea of not having a separate situation, just people being responsible,” said Sayne. “If we don’t think that people can be responsible then we have to divide it up.”

“And if our results are, that they go swimmingly, that we have zero incidences in a whole year, we can modify and go through that route,” said Devolin. “We’ll see how it goes. If we’re back here in a few months with some bad news, we can make the next adjustment or if by the end of a whole season, things are all positive, prior to another season, we revisit it.”

Belfry said the Huskies would be responsible for serving the alcohol properly, and would also provide security. 

Sayne thanked Belfry and council for the discussion.

“I like the fact that we had this dialogue,” she said. “It’s not a matter of being for or against anything, it’s a matter of making sure all the information is out there – what little we have because we have no experience on this. I just want to appreciate everybody on council for bringing up their perspectives on this because it is new.”