A growing concern over the pace of fundraising for the $46.5-million sports and entertainment centre has prompted city hall staff to look for ways to fill the "fundraising gap" if it appears. And some city councillors are hoping that gap doesn't mean going to the taxpayers for money.
"I've been trying to figure out ways to help with fundraising. If that centre doesn't work, we're in a lot of trouble financially for the long term," said Councillor Vicki Schmolka, who added she plans to donate to the campaign.
"I think we have to do everything to make fundraising work," Schmolka said. "I'm not too interested in contingencies. I'm interested in finding a way to make the fundraising work."
In the monthly progress report submitted to city council this week, staff overseeing work on the downtown arena wrote that they are concerned that the pace of fundraising for the centre isn't fast enough to meet the $2-million goal by the time the arena opens in February.
The most recent numbers on the city's website show the campaign has raised $645,722.43, or less than a third of the total required.
"Staff have met with the consultant and the chair of the campaign and have expressed concern with the ability to meet the financial goal of the campaign," the report notes. "This is in part attributed to other major fundraising campaigns such as United Way and hospitals that are currently underway within the city.
"Staff are currently reviewing a contingency plan to bridge any fundraising gap."
Mayor Harvey Rosen is chair of the campaign. He was not available for comment on the weekend.
In February, the city launched an aggressive fundraising campaign that city staff said needed to meet its goal before the centre opened. When the centre opens in February 2008, the campaign will have been going on for 12 months.
The original business plan for the centre pegged fundraising to take 18 months.
A consultants' report at the time found that there was a willingness in the community to donate and that $500,000 could be counted on when the campaign launched.
The campaign has entered what's known as a "major gifts phase," which is when large donations are seduced and then made public.
However, to date, more than 90 per cent of the donations to the campaign have been equal to, or less than, $100. Just over two per cent of donations have been greater than $5,000, according to the city hall report.
Councillor Ed Smith said he was confident the campaign would meet its goal. He said he didn't want to speculate on a something that hasn't happened.
Smith said the issue shouldn't creep its way into budget deliberations, which are to begin at the end of the month.
"It isn't operating money. The tax increase, or decrease or status quo is based on our operational budget, not our capital budget," he said.
Deputy Mayor Joyce MacLeod-Kane said she hears from people concerned about monetary shortfalls in the project, but points the finger at the previous group of councillors.
"We are just left to clean up the mess and we're trying our best to ensure it doesn't get stuck on the taxpayers bill," she said. "I would encourage the citizens of Kingston to donate even if it's $5, because we don't want to see an increase on our tax bill to pay for the sports and entertainment centre,"
Councillor Rob Matheson said the city shouldn't stop fundraising when the centre opens, if there is a shortfall. He said the city could look at asking the Downtown Business Improvement Area and the Kingston Accommodation Partners to increase their contribution, or run provincially-approved draws at the arena during events to raise the necessary funds.
"I'm not comfortable with an extra tax, that's for sure," Matheson said.
Schmolka said fundraisers need to create a sense of excitement around the project to garner larger donations.
The city is still hoping for a large grant from the federal government.
The staff report says that staff are still "in communications" with the office of Lawrence Cannon, federal transport and infrastructure minister, "to obtain a funding commitment."
The city has for more than a year asked the federal government for a grant to the sports and entertainment centre. To date, the government has not funded the project.
Originally, the city asked the federal government for a $4 million commitment to match the provincial government contribution.
The city revised that request over the summer and is now asking for $8 million.
Cannon's office has told the Whig-Standard that Ottawa will begin formal negotiations with the city once a federal funding program launched.
The $33-billion Building Canada fund launched earlier this month. The program plans to supply money to communities for sports facilities that would increase "opportunities for the development of Canadian athletes and/or the hosting of major amateur athletic events," according to the fund's website.
"Funding criteria will require that proponents of sport infrastructure projects demonstrate that their project will have a significant economic and/or regional impact," the website states.