By Martin Cleary
At the 2017 semi-annual meeting of the Granite Curling Club of West Ottawa, there was a deeply concerning and alarming moment.
It certainly didn’t involve a blaring security system, but rather the report delivered by the club’s treasurer.
The land assessment report for the next four years had arrived and there was a projected severe increase in property taxes on the horizon. The club, which had 500 members, would be facing a tripling of its property taxes.
The uncomfortable, bottom-line message coming out of the report was “we might be priced out of business,” said Greg Mathieu, who was then the board’s vice-president, but is now the Granite’s house and property director.
The club’s future was about to move fast as the city’s LRT (Light-Rail-Transit) system was planning to head its way and land prices were sure to rise even more.
“We were 60 metres from the Westboro transit station and we heard the train coming,” added Mathieu, who knew the time was ripe six years go to start contacting building developers.
But there was no panic from the club’s executive or members. They viewed this negative as a positive. The plan was to sell the land and building at 2026 Scott Street in Westboro to a developer and build a new club in the same neighbourhood.
In the end, the plan worked better than expected, despite a few disappointments here and there. The modernistic Granite will be moving to 2740 Queensview Drive and is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of September. The new location is about four kilometres west of the Scott Street curling site.
Mathieu, who held top administration roles with Cycling Canada, Wrestling Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee before his retirement in 2017, was appointed chair of the redevelopment sub-committee shortly after he stopped working full-time.
He put together a team that stuck together throughout the five-year process of saying good-bye to the 70-year-old current venue and anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new facility.
The new Granite curling club will continue to have four ice sheets, but there will be ice-level and second-floor viewing areas, large social areas for about 150 people, air conditioning for non-curling-season events, wheelchair accessibility, an elevator, and male and female locker rooms with washrooms as well as accessible and designated family washrooms.
There also will be TV monitors on all four sheets so spectators inside the club can follow games. The curlers will have ice-level screens to see the positioning of their shots.
When the Granite started looking at its options to deal with increased property taxes, developers were knocking on business doors in that neighbourhood, looking for land to build residential and business towers.
Mathieu’s redevelopment sub-committee contacted six developers and asked for their best proposals. In 2019, the Granite Private Equity Limited Partnership (GPELP) was selected, after its proposal was agreed to by the club members that October. The partnership is comprised of three major companies.
During that two-year period, the club studied land swap deals with two other sites for the club in Westboro, but the city and residents weren’t keen on those proposed deals.
GPELP bought the Granite building and land for about $8.5 million and by August, 2020, had found a new potential home for the Granite club so it wouldn’t miss a curling season. At a membership vote, the new west-end site on Queensview Drive received about 96 per cent approval in March, 2021. The sale of the Granite land and building was completed in June, 2022.
The money from the sale of the Granite will fully cover the cost of building the new club, according to Mathieu. The GPELP is planning to build two towers with 25-40 storeys.
Last June, the existing building on the Queensview site was demolished and work on the new Granite club venue has been in progress for 10 months.
“We tried to stay in Westboro, but it’s one of the priciest lands in the city,” Mathieu explained. “The members also wanted to have parking because they drive to and from curling. They also wanted the club to be owned by the members, not a city club.”
While the club couldn’t stay inside Westboro, the new venue also will have easy access from the Queensway, LRT access by 2026, upgraded sound insulation, a larger storage area and parking for about 70 vehicles.
“The (Queensview Drive) property is one that works well for us. It checks all the boxes,” said Mathieu, who joined the Granite in 2005.
“For me, I’ve moved on from the emotional attachment. I understand the financial situation. With property taxes going up … and trying to keep the old building up to snuff, that costs a lot for the membership. It put us in a precarious position. But our (new) location is fantastic.”
As Mathieu led his sub-committee through the process of selling the existing club and building a new one, he could see a parallel he experienced during his decades of working in the national high-performance sport system.
“There was an amazing amount of work to get to the start line. In high-performance sport, you turn on the TV and you have no idea how they got to the start line. This feels the same.”
As the sub-committee and construction workers spend the next five months moving towards the finish line, details for an opening ceremony will slowly come into focus.
Former Ottawa Mayor Charlotte Whitton delivered the first stone, when the Granite opened in 1953. The final rock was recently released by Helen Brown, 93, who made an impressive raised double takeout to score two points for her team’s win. Her clutch shot drew a rousing cheer from the crowd of spectators.
Come the end of September, Mark Sutcliffe, who is Ottawa’s sport-friendly mayor, may be in the hack to christen the new Granite with a stone to the button.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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