City Cuts Funding for North-Side Sports Facility

Edmonton's A1 plan suffers a blow, as parents and players search for places to play
Rendering of proposed A1 Athletic Facility soccer field

In a city that has to account for billions every year, finding $5 million in savings is like a drop in the bucket. But, for a City Council trying to keep the tax hike for 2024 down to 6.6 per cent, every dollar counts.

That’s why council voted 10-3 to axe $5 million that it had previously pledged to the A1 Athletic Facility, a planned north-side sports complex with enclosed soccer fields, pickleball courts, basketball courts and training facilities.

A1 was originally set to break ground in the Gorman neighbourhood last year, but it has run into issues with costs.

“As much as we are disappointed in the City’s decision, we will carry on with our quest to provide this for North Edmonton,” wrote A1 president Raj Mahmi in an email. “The cost had skyrocketed due to interest and supply chain issues. Infrastructure costs kept us delayed.

“We have chosen a new site close by, still in North Edmonton and will approach the city for a contribution. They did need the funds for pressing issues at this moment and we all just hope our City is looked after. I look forward to council’s reappropriation in the near future. The discussion will continue.”

The money was promised in the 2022 budget, as the City had identified that “the current service provision of indoor turf is inadequate and the City should enhance the current level of service.”

The City noted that the Edmonton Soccer Dome, located south of Ellerslie Road, was over 90 per cent booked — and that was in 2022.

And, when it comes to prime-time openings, Saturdays and Sundays, and weekdays when the kids are out of school, it’s hard to find space there.

For soccer, the City is very short on non-boarded fields. There is the Edmonton Soccer Dome and a couple of fields at Viktoria Soccer Club, near 137th Avenue and 142nd Street. But, there is so much strain on these facilities, that many clubs play one game and have just a single one-hour practice session a week. This is far short of what Canada Soccer would rate as optimal training times for developing players.

There are three City facilities that have boarded soccer facilities — that look like hockey rinks with turf. The south side facility was recently expanded, and they are also used for other sports, like lacrosse and ball hockey. But the boarded fields represent outdated thinking when it comes to soccer, as they’re no longer seen as being positive for the development of young players. Clubs and parents want to play on proper soccer fields, year round.

So, minor soccer in Edmonton is in a Catch-22. In Edmonton Minor Soccer, kids in the top two tiers get their games scheduled at the non-boarded fields in the Edmonton Soccer Dome and Viktoria. The lower tiers play in the boarded facilities. To keep up with parent demand, clubs are maxing out the number of Tier 1 and 2 teams they can field, even if they’re playing kids “up” who are being overwhelmed. It also means that all of the parents need to get their kids to clubs to either the north side or the south side — and that includes teams from as far away as Leduc, St. Albert, Parkland County… and even Red Deer. That’s one massive carbon footprint when it comes to driving.

The current situation is a meritocracy where the kids who “make it” get the good fields, and the kids who need more development get the boarded fields. For a City that prides itself on equity, it’s a bad look.

As well, because of the lack of indoor fields, many adult and minor teams use private facilities — such as the four Turf Training Centre facilities — to get needed practice and game times. That adds to the cost of sport. And, there are Edmonton teams that are holding practices in Nisku, Leduc or Beaumont.

For basketball, all you have to do is try to find a parking spot at the Saville Centre on a Saturday. It’s harder than finding a spot at West Edmonton Mall during the Christmas season. That gives an idea on how booked the courts are with minor basketball games.

“There is a possible new proposal for the project,” said Coun. Karen Principe, who was one of the three who voted against yanking the $5 million. “Council has decided to release the funding at this time. The proponent does have the opportunity to request funding again if they choose to.

“I voted against it [pulling the funding] because of the need. It’s a good opportunity for the City to have access to a facility like this for a relatively low cost.”

(Disclaimer: UA Editor Steven Sandor’s daughter plays soccer for Sting FC, and his son plays baseball for AHP Rustlers)