When the City of Whitehorse said no to the Friends of Sima Society last week, the volunteers went looking for help somewhere else.
They found it in a surprising place.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Softball Yukon announced it is stepping up to the plate with a $20,000 donation and a $50,000 loan to the new society. The total is nearly everything the Friends of Sima had asked for from city councillors last week, only to be rejected.
Softball and snow sports may seem like an odd couple, but George Arcand, the executive director of Softball Yukon, said it’s all about supporting fellow athletes.
“We felt it was important to have that hill open for kids in this community,” said Arcand.
The support is a one-time contribution that won’t curtail Softball Yukon’s ability to host the upcoming world championships or impact its other programs, Arcand said.
Softball Yukon isn’t the only organization stepping up, either. Community Services Minister Brad Cathers said the Yukon government will make good on its promise to match funding up to $70,000, regardless of whether the city puts up any cash.
That removes a condition that the government had placed on its support, which made the money dependent on a “significant contribution” from the city.
That contribution was expected to come in the form of $65,000 – the same amount it would cost to temporarily close the ski hill – that city administration had recommended be given to the Friends of Sima. But last week, city council voted against the funding.
“Quite frankly we don’t understand why the decision would be made to spend $65,000 to mothball it and yet not be prepared to contribute that same amount even if it was contingent on Friends of Sima reaching certain milestones in terms of pledges or fundraising,” Cathers said.
All told, the newly formed society has pulled in promises totaling approximately $605,000. That includes around $320,000 in pledged season passes.
But right now, the society doesn’t have a single penny in the bank.
“I have a cheque that I’ve been carrying around for a week now for a ski pass from a city councillor. That will be the first deposit that I make,” said the society’s newly minted president, Laurie Henderson.
“We have been very clear on all of this. As generous as this money is, we’re not taking it without considerable thought. Realization of these dollars will depend on getting the pledge money in the bank,” she said.
That will be the next big push, Henderson said.
The society will make an announcement by Friday telling people how to go about paying up, and anyone who hasn’t yet made a pledge can still do so, she said.
“How many passes we sell in the next three weeks will be the crucial part. There’s no way we would turn someone away who hasn’t made a pledge yet,” she said.
Along with the pledges, the group still needs to find an additional $50,000 from the business community, said society vice-president Rod Taylor.
“Ideally we’d like to raise $75,000 because we know that one of the issues in the past has been those contingencies … like mechanical breakdown, weather, etc.,” Taylor said.
At last week’s city council meeting, the Friends of Sima asked the city for a total of $72,500. The $70,000 in funding promised by Softball Yukon still leaves them $2,500 short.
Councillor Kirk Cameron announced at the press conference that his company, northSense, will step up and fill that $2,500 gap.
“These guys get 100 per cent of my support on anything they do. I’ll continue to work with them over the winter, and push and prod the business community,” Cameron said.
Cameron and Coun. John Streicker were the only two who voted in favour of the city providing funding at last week’s meeting.
“City council set the bar 10 weeks ago saying, ‘Community, you’ve got to step forward.’ And in spades, they did just that. This is a groundswell like none other that I’ve ever seen in this community,” he said.
Coun. Betty Irwin was also at Tuesday’s announcement. Last week she voted against funding the hill with city money. On Tuesday, she said that seeing the community come forward to fill the gap was exactly what city council had hoped for.
“I think this is a wonderful thing that has happened. It’s what, I think, all of us on council wanted. I’m absolutely delighted to see how it has worked out,” she said.
After last week’s council meeting, the implication was that if the city wasn’t going to fund an open hill, it would have to pay the $65,000 to mothball the facility. But Irwin disputed that.
“We never said that we were going to mothball the facility. That was just one of the things that was talked about. As for the city’s part from now on, I don’t know. If the Friends of Mount Sima come forward with another proposal, another request for assistance, of course we’ll consider it,” she said.
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