Facility Profile - March 2005
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Magnificent Megaplex

TransAlta Tri Leisure Centre
Spruce Grove, Alberta

By Earl Hogan

Often a unique partnership produces unique results. The Alberta municipalities of Parkland County, the Town of Stony Plain and the City of Spruce Grove joined forces to produce the $28 million TransAlta Tri Leisure Centre (TLC). The facility was the fourth in a string of new facilities completed within a few years across Alberta, which now has three others under construction, as the trend seems to continue toward large, multiplex municipal recreation facilities.

The TLC serves as a year-round family fitness center; a much-needed indoor venue for hockey, soccer and other organized sports programs; and a popular social hub for participating communities. The participating governments share in a magnificent resource and never could have independently financed the megaplex.

"We've had inquiries about TLC from as far away as New Zealand," says Roger Smolnicky, managing director of the complex. "Our residents have a truly rare resource here, perhaps unique throughout the entire world."

The Tri Municipal Leisure Facility Corporation, a not-for-profit company and partnership of the three municipalities, developed and manages the facility. This partnership remains unique among the other new facilities in Alberta, and the collaborative approach could serve as a model for other local governments interested in a similar public-private venture.

Adopting Alberta's Part Nine legal provisions for TLC assured immediate and long-range benefits. These provincially legislated entities are intended to create not-for-profits and/or public/private sector ventures such as TLC.

"The benefits of operating the TLC as a Part Nine company relate to the decision-making and financial operations," explains Diane Hamel, manager of business and public affairs for Spruce Grove. "Although each municipality appoints two elected officials and one public member to the TLC Board of Directors, the board operates independently. The value to the municipalities resides in the community transparency, elimination of 'turf protection' and the ability to operate the facility as a business."

The TLC is earning acceptance as well as proving to be an economic stimulus.

"We already draw 1.2 million visitors per year," Smolnicky says. "The Centre has even attracted its first international event. We hosted the World In-Line Hockey Competition, a roller-blade event on bare ground, that had teams from nine countries."

In addition to strong patronage by residents, the 226,000-square-foot multiplex presents a marketable venue for tournaments, trade shows, festivals and other special events. The economic impact is evident in three new housing developments and expansion of a fourth. Interest also has emerged among commercial developers. Whereas "leap-frog" development occurred before TLC changed the landscape, this corridor of Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland County has enjoyed healthier types of infill projects.

"The city of Spruce Grove has experienced an average of 8 percent growth since the opening of TLC," Hamel says. "In addition, we have seen commercial land values adjacent to the leisure facility increase by 20 percent."