Rainbow Park could turn tide: Snook

Survey Councillor wants to change public's negative opinion of recreation opportunities in city

SAINT JOHN - A bold plan to spend $2.4 million on a neglected south end park could be a showpiece for other recreation projects in Saint John, says a city councillor.

                               

Coun. Donnie Snook at Rainbow Park in the South End. He favours a bold plan to spend $2.4 million to renew the park.

Donnie Snook wants the renewal of Rainbow Park to change public opinion. A recent survey conducted by Corporate Research Associates on behalf of the Telegraph-Journal shows that 46 per cent of people are dissatisfied with the limited and decreased recreational opportunities in Saint John, whereas 36 per cent of people are satisfied with the job common council is doing on the file.

Snook says the budget cuts to the leisure services department have reached an end and he is convinced the rest of council is committed to improving recreation, including community centres.

"Recreation is what people are looking for," he said in an interview Monday. "It's a quality-of-life issue that's very important in our plan for attracting people to live in Saint John."

Leisure services received a budget increase of about six per cent this year, to $6.9 million from $6.5 million.

City officials are also hoping to fund major projects for some of Saint John's most important recreational assets:

  • The Canada Games Aquatic Centre will soon get an energy retrofit.
  • Shamrock Park will have a complete makeover including a new BMX bike trail.
  • Two hockey arenas are getting new ice slabs.
  • The Canada Games stadium could soon have an artificial turf field.
  • Rockwood Park is getting a friendlier entrance.
  • And council has made it a priority to build a new recreational facility before the end of its term.

Snook said the project that could provide a groundswell of support is Rainbow Park's revamp. He said he was hopeful funding from public and private partners would be in place within the next few months to get the job done.

The new-look park would feature a large splash pad during the warmer months and a refrigerated outdoor ice rink during the winter.

Plans to extend Harbour Passage, the popular walking trail, would feature the park prominently as an anchor, Snook said.

"I know it's hard for some people to get past what the costs are. But I think we have to say, 'You know what? The time has come to make that kind of investment,' " he said.

"We could water it down and scale it back, but how about we say 'no.' How about we actually try to do it? Why take a backseat to what other cities are achieving and say, 'Why can't we achieve it?' "

Snook said increasing the annual recreation budget and building more facilities does not mean taxes have to go up.

He pointed to the recent tax break council provided, reducing the rate by one cent.

"At the 11th hour of our last budget, we found fairly significant savings, just by saying to each department across the board, 'You are going to do with less,' " he said. "We'll just have to keep pushing and asking that staff deliver these kinds of savings through finding efficiencies in how they're operating."

The survey of Telegraph-Journal readers was conducted from Jan. 13 to 19, with 402 people interviewed, and is considered accurate 19 times out of 20, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 per cent.

Source: Telegraph-Journal  March 3, 2009