What the candidates say about: The Pretty River Sports Dome – Part 1

I asked some of the candidates for Collingwood Town Council 2014 Election the following question:

The PRA sports Dome has been a contentious file since it was first proposed in 2008. It is now slated to be dismantled within the next month. What is your opinion on this much needed facility no longer being available to the residents of Collingwood? What would you have done differently (if anything) from what has been done in the past to support this facility?

Steve Berman
Having a year round domed field, is an asset to the community. I would like to have seen this council ask “staff”, to research the issue, and see if there is any opportunity for the dome to remain where it is, remain available to the public and the user groups for rental, and to be self sufficient.

Kathy Jeffery
This decision of Council baffles me. At a time when we have a capital asset report that concludes that the municipality is challenged to maintain and replace the facilities and assets it has and we have a private organization with a facility to fill a gap for indoor soccer and other uses, the obvious answer would be that we needed to work our way to a solution to the challenges to allow PRA to keep the sports dome.

The operating agreement between the municipality and PRA (a PPP – private public partnership) was a little more challenging in its “outsourcing” characteristics, but surely the important thing here is the need being filled for the residents at a lesser cost than what it is for the municipality to build it. As long as the agreement fit the delivery of the services for any municipal programming needs at a reasonable cost, in my opinion we should be supporting a successful outcome of a build municipally approved.

It is also another awful waste of upper tier government funds that were granted for and invested in that project. We taxpayers pay those too. The upper tier government funding that went into the PRA project was available for application by both municipalities and private organizations. Therefore, the municipality was competing for funding dollars for qualifying projects. The Town of Collingwood was required to and did approve the project in a staff process outside of a Council motion to my best recollection, but approved none-the-less. I have no recollection of any zoning challenges being brought to Council’s attention at that time.

Gail Michalenko
I do feel that it is a shame to lose this facility that has been well use by the community, especially the soccer league. Since we can’t offer a facility for this use with in the town recreation facilities it is shame to lose it. The main problem appeared to be the fact that Council would not waive the development charges. I do believe there were some mistakes made by some representatives of PRA but since it is a facility that was going to be available to local residents I think the charges should have been deferred and arrangements made to pay down these charges in small increments yearly. I understand that there was likely concern that this would set precedence for other requests but I think these sorts of things can be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Chris Carrier Candidate for mayor
The Council of 2006-2010 approved a lease agreement with Pretty River Academy that would have allowed the municipality to act as the booking agent for the facility. The agreement was approved by the Council and the planning approvals were done in such a way as to allow the interpretation of the sports facility as being part of the municipality’s recreation infrastructure thus exempting them from development charges. Collingwood taxpayers incurred no capital costs nor any ongoing operational costs.


A covered sports dome that is owned by others but still can be used by the municipality as part of the overall plan to deliver recreational uses to our citizens and other stakeholders can be a good thing like it was determined through the review process for the PRA soccer dome facility. This strategic partnership with PRA was a real example of the municipality not incurring the costs to build needed recreational infrastructure but instead finding a creative solution that would benefit many user groups. I would hope there is a similar solution coming from this current Council and PRA before the deadline of dismantling so that this all year round facility can still be used by the school children and other community groups.

Tim Fryer
As you state the idea of a sports dome at the PRA was proposed long ago in 2008. At that time it was vital that everyone involved got onto the same page to ensure all potential factors/impacts were known. It appears that this was not the case, so that is something that should be done differently in the future to avoid a reoccurrence that results in; the economical construction of, the apparent successful operation of and then the unfortunate dismantling of, a very useful and necessary facility. At the very least Council must ensure that, proper communication from itself and municipal staff of any pertinent factors flows through, to the potential developer. Likewise the developer should maintain communication lines too. I do not know all of the facts about this file to accurately assess whether or not that happened but in future I would work on ensuring that it does.

I had the opportunity to visit the location numerous times during the winter/spring months and it certainly is unfortunate that very shortly it is not going to be available any more. Cost is obviously the overbearing factor whether it is the final construction cost, the pending development charges or the required operational expenses. Whatever the reason It is substantial enough to mean that it isn’t cost effective in spite of a bevy of activity, which produced revenue to offset the costs, over the past year. Hopefully there may still be an opportunity to reduce the current differential between cost and revenue sufficiently through the combined efforts of the parties involved to avoid having to dismantle this facility.

A final thought on this is that the project appears to have been a perfect opportunity for a public private partnership. Instead it appears that it escalated into a public private feud. Most importantly these types of partnership options are going to have to be brought to successful fruition in the future, as Council works on meeting the municipality’s infrastructure needs because of the strained financial position it finds itself in.

What the candidates say about: The Collingwood Elvis Festival – Part Two


Keith Hull
Yes. However, I would choose to use the word “invest” versus subsidize. The Municipality each year invests your tax dollars through direct investment, staff resources and in-kind contributions to many events and organizations. The sum of these events and organizations contribute to overall health, vibrancy and economic success that is Collingwood. The Collingwood Elvis Festival is celebrating 20 years and is recognized as the “World’s Largest Elvis Festival” and is not something that can be replaced overnight. Both the Festival and staff have been recognized provincially and this is something to be celebrated!

However, in an effort to ensure resources are invested wisely I would like to see better surveying during the festival. This past winter I was in Peterborough, ON attending a hockey tournament. There were 50+ teams from across the province. Something I took away is that every time I entered an arena I was approached to complete an “Economic” survey. To ensure the data was accurate and avoid duplication I was given a card similar to what the Scout’s give out on Apple Day that I could show surveyors as they approached me. The information was being gathered to assess the economic impact of the tournament on the local economy and to find out where improvement could be made. I stand to be corrected but I don’t think this is being done during Elvis (or other community events).

Finally, this time last year I was having lunch with my two boys in one of the local restaurants along Hurontario Street. Our server asked “if we were in town for Elvis?” Before I could respond she followed up by saying “the festival is wonderful for the Town of Collingwood.” The festival didn’t impact me that weekend. However, I bet our server did very well earning tips during the Festival.

Chris Carrier (Candidate for Mayor)
The short answer is no. That being said I think the Town should buy a sponsorship like we use to do with the Horse Show and how the event organizers spend the money for the event is their decision. I believe the event could and should be run by others than the municipal staff. Municipal Staff should be assigned to ensure the process for approvals is made as easy and as simple as possible so resources/money are where necessary to ensure a successful event both from a community perspective and bottom line. I trust our Town Staff to make the right decisions to ensure public safety and a great community experience. I only have access to information that is available on the Town’s web site and in the media about this event but in speaking to people involved with the Elvis Festival and some who are familiar with other events the cost and timeliness of the process for approvals can be streamlined. There is more than enough data available for our Town Staff and Committee Members plus Stakeholders to audit the event approval process and the associated costs to determine how to improve for the following year’s event. The event gives our community significant profile much like Wakestock and the Horse Show did albeit with different demographic groups. Exit interviews are done with personnel so why not Event Organizers (who for whatever reasons leave our community) with the goal to improve the process to retain existing events and also to attract other events. I spoke with a young lady who at last year’s Elvis festival earned one thousand dollars plus in tips serving food and alcohol. I have had local merchants who say the “echo effect” where visitors come back a few weeks later to our community after the Elvis event to experience our hometown when it is not so hectic is both real and important to their bottom line. There is a lot of money involved in this event and a subsidy is not needed. Privatizing the event with a commitment to support a process for approvals and implementation that will improve the bottom line and strengthen our already existing relationships with key stakeholders is the direction I would like to Council consider.

Gail Michalenko
As I said in the comments on your blog I absolutely do not believe that Collingwood tax dollars, labour and equipment should be going toward the Elvis festival. There are any number of other events – soccer tournaments, swim meets, ball tournaments, hockey tournaments etc that bring visitors to our community and benefit the economy as a result. None of them are subsidized the way this event is. I believe a lot of people have fun and get enjoyment out of the event but it should not be at a cost to our local residents.
The other reality is that In fact there are a number of businesses that actually lose money Elvis weekend because their regular customers will not come downtown. Perhaps those businesses that do benefit should be supporting the festival – no tax dollars.

Tim Fryer
“My previous background with the Elvis Festival (formerly Competition Chair through my involvement as President of the Chamber of Commerce) provides me with a base of understanding of how a fledgling idea hatches and then what transpires to guaranteeing that it is successful and long-lasting signature event. When an event becomes globally known and has grown into a professionally endorsed year in year out major success Council and the community must do everything it can to keep it going. They have to ensure that it runs smoothly and safely, that area business benefit as much as possible and that all of the residents can enjoy being involved and interacting with the event’s guests and participants. It became very clear in the early years of the event that this can’t be just a volunteer run event. The size of the undertaking is one reason but another major one is that it is during prime vacation time and it would be extremely difficult to regularly attract enough volunteers.

I support the involvement of the municipality in meeting the mandate of the Elvis Festival Service Board. That being said it is imperative, in every instance possible, when it requires the use of town expenditures and resources that a proper business plan approach be incorporated. That includes utilizing an annual cost/benefit analysis review as the basis to examine the accuracy of projections and then to determine the next commitment. Currently for this, as I see it, the required system is in place. For example after the July 2013 event the EFSB quickly provided on Sept. 9/13 a detailed analysis and obtained Oct. approval for 2014. Appropriately the EFSB includes council, staff, Chamber, BIA and very importantly 2 community reps, as well as an Event Manager, to ensure proper control is in place. This working model is a result of Council incorporating community initiative and planning to maximize the resulting benefits. Control and community engagement is imperative when holding an internationally recognized event that attracts so many visitors to our community. We want to provide such a wonderful and safe experience to them that they will want to return again and again.”

What the candidates say about: The Collingwood Elvis Festival – Part One

I asked some of the candidates for Collingwood Town Council 2014 Election the following question:

Do you think that the tax payers of Collingwood should continue to subsidize financially and support with towns labour and resources the Collingwood Elvis Festival?

(Answers are in chronological order that I received them.)

Kathy Jeffery
As long as the event can break even financially it should be considered to continue. The economic spin off is significant to support many food, beverage, accommodation, support services and retail businesses in Collingwood, which translates into more disposable income to be spent after the event at the other businesses who may not benefit as greatly specifically from the Festival.
I believe that it is important to assess the Festival on an ongoing basis to ensure the benefits still outweigh the investment by the taxpayers. When they don’t, well the decision is obvious.

Steve Berman
My answer is no. You know I can rant about pretty much anything, but this one is such a no brainer. Also, until we can open the Elvis books, it just speculation about how much tax $$ are going into it.

Councillor Joe Gardhouse (Candidate for Mayor)
Yes… The goal of the festival has always been to Financially “Break Even” while offering a first class entertainment package to the locals and visitors. If you study the budgets over the recent past you’ll find the Elvis organizers have done a very good job balancing financial restraint with Promotional investment. The province recognizes this Festival as a significant event and contributes heavily. WE also attract various corporate sponsorships who use this event to showcase their Products and services.
Elvis is the biggest weekend of the year for our hotels, restaurants & bars… & with The town of Blue Mountain and Wasaga joining in with various supplementary events … it makes this a truly regional party.
Is the investment/risk worth the reward ? Yes.
Is it a pain in the butt to some residents? Yes.
Does the majority just dawn their sunglasses, swivel their hips and have some fun? Yes.
I’ve got to go now , as my wife and I have a date with Priscilla … I’m all shook up..

Rick Crouch
I think you have summed up the Elvis Festival rather succinctly in your previous posts. So I will refrain from commenting on the festival itself. First, I am of the opinion that there has never been a detailed and accurate accounting of this event that fully accounts for the countless hours expended by Town staff that goes into pulling this venue off. The word “accountability” gets thrown around a lot these days but here is yet another example where it is lacking. Regardless of that fact however, I am absolutely against the expenditure of municipal resources to subsidize financially or otherwise support this event.

Those of us that earn the respect and votes of our constituents this fall will no doubt have some tough decisions to make in the next four years. Political agendas need to be put aside in order for us to collectively manage our community for what it is, a multi-million dollar a year corporation. First, we need to focus on deploying the Town’s human and other assets in such a manner as to cost effectively deliver the “essential services” that taxpayers depend on and acting as a concert promoter is not one of them. Secondly, among the many challenges facing the next Council is the need to commence building a strong economic base by attracting some meaningful long term employment opportunities. We must start what will be a challenging and lengthy process to replace the hundreds of jobs lost from our once strong manufacturing sector thus strengthening all facets of the local economy beyond the hospitality sector and for more than just one weekend a year via Elvis.

Deb Doherty
I disagree that the vast majority of Collingwood residents dislike or disapprove of the Elvis Festival. Many folks I know find it to be a fun and entertaining event, whether they are Elvis fans or not, and very, very good for many businesses. The fact is that the festival has provided the Town of Collingwood with international profile, and brings thousands of visitors with money in their pockets and the intention to spend it. Hundreds of small Ontario communities would fall all over themselves for such an opportunity.
I believe that some level of funding for the event can be rationalized; however I believe that the funding should be in the form of a Sponsorship, not a donation. A sponsorship agreement carries with it deliverables for both sides – the organization receives a cash and/or in-kind injection and the sponsor (should) receive in exchange a guaranteed minimum number of impressions – on-site, on-air, and online. The sponsorship recognition should foster and reinforce the appropriate imaging for the Town. The sponsor should be permitted to establish an on-site presence for self-promotion and dissemination of information and/or promotional materials. This is an area that the Town could take advantage of and, to my knowledge, never has – to set up a staffed information kiosk and disseminate materials and information on community profile, forms, and services and that would be of interest to potential new businesses or new residents. If in-kind services are part of the sponsorship package, focus on creating legacy benefits – like planting and beautifying the flower beds in the parking lots (many of which are not planted this year and look terrible, in my opinion) or permanent fixtures that can be used for other events and activities, just as an example, collapsible bleachers.
A sponsorship package creates accountability. If the sponsored event declines in deliverables like attendance, average expenditure per visitor and/or reduced media exposure, or if the event begins to have a negative impact on the image of the town, then the expenditure is no longer warranted, and the Town has a business case for declining the sponsorship.

Brian Saunderson (Candidate for Deputy Mayor)
The real question for me is what is the return on investment the Town gets for the money and manpower it contributes to the Elvis Festival. It is not clear to me that this has been properly assessed to date, but I think any meaningful discussion about the future of the Festival should start with a cost – benefit analysis to show what the economic impact is for our community.
I think that there are other less tangible but important considerations such as ‎community building and civic pride that hosting these events can bring to the community.
At the end of the day, if the Festival brings tourism dollars to our community, supports our service and retail sector, shows off our community and generates a sense of civic pride for our community then the Festival is a good investment.
‎I think this is a discussion that the next Council should have with the proper information and data at hand.

(Second part will be published tomorrow.)

Dome – Going, Going, Gone.

The Pretty River Academy Sports Dome will be gone within the next month. The actual owner of the dome who was leasing it out to the school is frantically looking for a place to store it with the view of selling it on at a substantial discount as soon as possible. Apparently his lease payments are many thousands of dollars in arrears.

It seems nobody has been able to come up with Simcoe County’s $100k development charges which the county refused to defer. That was the death knoll of the dome. Seems a bit silly to me by demanding immediate payment they insured that they will never get the payoff (shakedown) that they wanted, at least if it were deferred there is a chance that they could collect at some point in the future. This way everyone loses.

It’s ridiculous that other communities seem to be able to put together a facility like this without missing a heart beat. Collingwood not so much. But the real reason behind the failure of this facility goes back to the old local feud that permeates behind the scenes in this town (remember the Hatfield’s and McCoys?) . Certain people have kids and grand kids at the school and this dome was a great way of sticking it to them. I think what really pisses me off is the fact that this dome could have been sorted with the type of investment that Town Council put into the therapeutic pool (kids paddling pool) in the pool tent. I say the only thing that was stopping a municipal solution to this situation was a willingness from this current town council to get it done. Yeah they talked a good talk at council meetings but that was the proverbial smoke being blown up the publics never regions. Everyone has known since it was built, that the school could neither run nor finance this facility, the school made a proposal to town council that the town take over and run the dome which seemed quite sensible to me, I even posted profit loss projections that showed the town could actually turn a profit on the thing. Yeah OK they deferred the towns development charges but that was like putting a band aid over a missing limb. I guess swimmers and hockey players take precedence over soccer and rugby players in Collingwood. Which is rather strange considering there are twice the amount of competitive soccer players in town than hockey players, and 10 times more than competitive swimmers. Myself and CUSC are now frantically scrambling to try and find somewhere for the uber keen soccer players to kick a ball around in the winter.

I can’t really say that this surprises me, throughout the winter I could tell the school had lost interest in anything to do with the dome, from cleaning up garbage, to changing light bulbs, to general maintenance of the field. Most times it was the user groups that had to arrange access into the place.

Take a drive past the dome before it gets torn down and you will get some idea how absolutely pathetic this town is at just about everything it gets itself involved with. I find it disgusting at the incompetence and ineptness in the way this thing has been handled by all people and parties from day one. Maybe if everyone could hold out another 3 months a new council might be able to come up with a solution that keeps the dome in place and keeps everyone happy including Simcoe County. But I won’t hold my breath.

We have a first class facility that is sitting there built. Hundreds of kids and adults from all over the area have been using it in the fall/winter/spring months and in the next few weeks it will be loaded onto semi-trailers and put into storage. This is absolutely pathetic.

Elvis should pay for his own peanut butter and banana sandwiches!!!

I posted the following September last year.

It’s time to start having a grown up conversation about the Collingwood Elvis Festival. This year it lost another $40,000.00 which the citizens of Collingwood have to pony up for.

I have no problem with the festival continuing to be hosted by our town. Where I do have a problem is the town picking up the slack when it loses money. It should be self-supporting and run like a business. If it is so important to the local economy then let the people who benefit from it pay the tab; i.e. local hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, rentals etc. Because most of us people that actually live here find it a major pain in the arse. By Sunday evening of this awful weekend, I am just about ready to stick a red hot poker in my ear, after another toneless rendition of “Return to Sender” wafts across my back yard.
Let’s look at this another way. I did a post back on 13th August here:


I showed in that post how much money Collingwood United Soccer Club brings into Collingwood on the first two weekends of June with their rep boys and girls soccer tournaments. I would hazard a guess that it brings in as many if not more people and revenue into the local economy than the Elvis festival does and causes the local populace a lot less aggravation. On top of that CUSC pays the town $37,000.00 in user fees over the summer for field rentals so the club is a net contributor to the towns coffers. Can you imagine the outcry if the EB then ran a story saying the town would be coughing up $40,000.00 to cover losses generated by this soccer tournament and quite rightly so.
Chadwick originally had the right idea about this gag inducing festival back in 2004 read this:

elvis and numbers

I am not sure when it happened but he has now found religion on Elvis and has developed into one of its biggest backers. Maybe his pals on council told him that that is now the accepted way of thinking.
One last thing, because of the gradual declining demographic of the people that visit these Elvis events the decision to eventually end this festival will be made for us. Every year the hair gets greyer, the walkers more abundant and the attendees more wrinkled. Make it pay for itself and see how long it lasts.

In 2014 Elvis Presley is just not COOL

It’s that time of year again. No I don’t mean the summer trip to the cottage, or time to get the AC system serviced. No it’s Elvis Festival time. This year as an added bonus they have tacked on an extra day of endless toneless droning that encompasses the whole of the downtown core of Collingwood. When is this yearly dose of self-flagellation going to end? In the run up to this event I have not talked to one local resident that embraces or even likes this festival. Those that are in charge of us, keep telling us it’s great for tourism. If making us the laughing stock of Ontario is good for tourism I can think of a lot cheaper, less inconvenient ways of doing it. Yeah those CBC and CTV news fillers covering the Collingwood Elvis Festival are not laughing with us folks they are laughing at us. When I try and explain it to friends from out of town, they give me a look of bemused bewilderment and usually ask “and the towns connection to Elvis is???” Let’s face it ladies and gentleman in 2014 Elvis Presley is no longer cool. Elvis impersonators even less cool and dare I say tacky. So what do you think the impression of a small town in Central Ontario is that embraces these two things? That’s right NOT COOL and TACKY. Take a look at some festivals that are cool: Wakefest – that has now left town. Ride for Sight – what could be cooler than motorcycles? Also left town. Corvette Days – very cool and long gone. It is way past time for this town to grab itself by its collective boot straps and start re-imagining itself. Maybe by having an annual Rock festival similar to the ones they have in England – Glastonbury, Knebworth, Hyde Park. There are loads of farmer’s fields that could be used for this purpose and as far as I know no one else is doing it in Ontario. What could be cooler for a towns image than “Coldplay Live in Collingwood” on the Billboard top 100.

A good buddy of mine had a girlfriend a few years ago that reminds me of Collingwood Elvis Festival. It ended up the only thing he was getting out of the relationship was the Visa bill at the end of the month. Collingwood’s “girlfriend” cost the tax payers $40,000.00 to cover last year’s Elvis shortfall and its more or less the same each year.
Keeping with the girlfriend analogy, sometimes you stick in a relationship because you are used to it and you are scared of the unknown. Then when it’s all finished up you find there is a whole world out there that you have been missing out on. What we are missing is a slew of mid-summer festivals and events that are a lot more relevant to this town, area, province, country’s history and culture and maybe even a little more chilling. Nothing new and exciting is happening here, because our town halls collective attention is on foisting this 1950’s and 60’s American popular culture icon on an unimpressed populace. Come on – Priscila Presley making an appearance??? I bet she doesn’t even spend a night in Collingwood. The local accommodations are probably not up to her impeccable standards. (BTW our mayor just started following her on Twitter, I had to again try and control the gag reflex).
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying ban the festival. But make it pay for itself. Meaning no subsidizing the event. Any town resources that go into making this event possible get reimbursed by Elvis Presley Enterprises in the form of a licencing fee. It should also pay for its own extra policing and EMS overtime costs. You would soon see this festival go the way of the dodo bird.
I really hope that with a few new faces on town council, this coming October, we can finally start to have some open and honest conversations about this event and its future. Maybe a few town hall type meetings to get the actual residents of this town opinion on the whole thing. It is not a fate-accompli that we have to fund and run this thing every year.

Adult Commentary about the Collingwood Elvis Festival

I posted this in September of last year. I thought it would be a good start to get the conversation rolling again; being as this tacky festival is about to kick off again.

I always judge the importance of something or someone in popular culture by whether it has its own Wikipedia page. The Collingwood Elvis Festival does not. It has a one line entry in the actual Collingwood, Ontario page but that’s it. So this festival that is so important to this towns identity, it’s such a draw, it brings so much worldwide attention to our towns tourist industry, doesn’t even get its own Wikipedia page. In fact take a look at this:


That is the Wikipedia entry on Elvis Impersonators. Did you see it? Did you see a few lines about the “World’s biggest Elvis festival in Collingwood, Ontario”? No neither did I. Because in the whole world scheme of all things Elvis, Collingwood isn’t even on the radar.
How much money did we send off to Elvis Presley Enterprise’s after this year’s festival? Seriously I’m asking, if someone knows let me know. EPE is the money making venture that now handles everything Elvis. Nothing Elvis in the world gets done without handing a piece of the action to this company. Here’s a thought, being as our town is shamelessly promoting this American icon of popular culture, every July for 20 years. How about EPE kicking back some money into the kitty to keep this thing viable?
One thing that I have always wondered is WHY??? Why do we celebrate Elvis Presley in Collingwood once a year? Was this a favorite vacation destination of the King back in the sixties relaxing with his entourage down at the Georgian Manor Resort? Did he have a friend or family member from this area? Did he write a song about this towns ship building heritage? Or did Elvis do an unknown Mountie movie in the area that I don’t know about? The answer to all this in an emphatic “NO”. In fact when the king was alive I bet he couldn’t have picked Collingwood or Ontario from a map of the world. So again WHY? There are so many other things that are relevant to our local history, culture, geography that we could celebrate in a festival; and yet we celebrate someone who in the end was grossly overweight through hedonistic self-indulgence and was so addicted to prescription and other drugs, he didn’t know what day it was. Not much of a roll model.
Thinking about it, I will answer the WHY for you myself. This started as a talent contest in 1994, during the early nineties recession. The town was still reeling from the shipyards closure 8 years previously and the development of Blue Mountain into a four season mega resort, was still 10 years away. The town needed something to boost the local economy and this seemed to fit the bill. So it was promoted and grew in leaps and bounds year after year until it has morphed into what we see today. But that was then this is now. We have plenty of things to draw people to our town, it has become a summer and winter playground for the large population bases south of us, we don’t need it anymore.
So again I say, have your festival by all means. I will put up with the road closures and the whole of downtown becoming a parking no go zone and delay doing my banking. I will put up with the droning (mostly) amateurish Elvis music ear worming its way into my consciousness for 72 hours a year. But stop picking my pockets to pay for it, make it pay for itself.