Let’s finish what we started with track dream

April 26, 2014

AlumniStadiumDave Scott-Thomas and his gang have a whole lot of faith in Guelph muscle and motivation.

As the head coach of the Speed River Track and Field Club, the University of Guelph track and field team and a senior coach with Athletics Canada, he’s long been big on the idea that local athletes can compete with the best in the world.

Along the way, Scott-Thomas and his non-profit club have helped build Guelph’s reputation as a serious centre for track and field in Canada, drawing plenty of national attention here. They’ve produced more than their share of Olympians, boosted Guelph’s civic pride and helped grow the sport of running far beyond elite athletes.

Speed River and its many supporters took that same spirit — why not here? — and applied it to their hopes for an international-calibre track facility at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium, which was finished last year.

That new track is only part of the larger vision Speed River has for athletics in Guelph. But those big aspirations are in a holding pattern as city councillors mull over whether they’ll continue their support for Guelph’s track and field dreams.

Last November, the Speed River Track and Field Club asked the city for $800,000 to build the second phase in the plan to transform Alumni Stadium and lands nearby into a world-class athletics facility.

Their goal? A top-notch field for throwing events and long jump, all on land supplied by the university. Combined with the adjacent track they’ve already built, it would make an athletics centre that would rival anything else in the country.

With that kind of facility, Guelph could host much larger track and field events, such as the Canadian Track and Field Championships, and professional and international-level competitions that would bring thousands of visitors to the city.

But there’s a cost, of course.

When Scott-Thomas appeared in front of city councillors, his club was asking for $100,000 from the city this year, $235,000 in 2015 and 2016, and $230,000 in 2017. They hoped construction could start in 2014, too.

There’s obviously public support for the concept of turning Guelph into Canada’s capital for track and field. In the project’s first phase, more than 500 donors kicked in $1 million in the span of 10 short days to help build the eight-lane track at Alumni Stadium.

And there’s clearly an economic case to be made for the city’s investment, too. With hundreds of track meets around Canada every year, plus the chance to host larger competitions, Speed River estimates the combined facilities could generate up to $10.5 million in economic activity in the five years after the project is completed.

Even if that’s overstated, it’s a pretty good return on the city’s investment.

It’s expected city councillors could consider the Phase 2 request within the next few weeks. If they offer support, Scott-Thomas says the project could be finished by next summer.

City councillors need to do their due diligence on anything with an $800,000 price tag. That goes without saying. But let’s hope they don’t balk at the cost and put the brakes on this project when it’s only half finished.

It would, undoubtedly, be money well spent.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. Past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @MercerRecord

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