Hope pitches arena idea to federal minister

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A new arena for the former Navistar site on Richmond Street in Chatham was on the table Monday as the municipality played host to visiting federal government officials – including one who could potentially provide the municipality with millions of dollars in funding support.

Mayor Randy Hope took Amarjeet Sohi, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, and London North Centre MP Peter Fragistakos on a tour that included the former truck plant site, the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society museum, as well as Greenfield Global Greenhouses and Truly Green Farms.

Hope called the day an important step for the municipality, noting the sincerity of a federal minister visiting Chatham-Kent.

“In the 12 years I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve seen a federal minister, so this is an important day for this community to have the minister come,” he said.

The mayor said the tour was to give Sohi a better understanding of what his plans are for the former Navistar site. Earlier this year, Hope announced his belief that the former truck plant property could be used for a new twin-pad arena, multi-use recreation as well a transportation hub to serve the region.

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The project has an estimated cost of between $52 million and $56 million.

Hope is seeking federal and provincial financial support.

Sohi said there was no formal funding announcement for the project, yet his visit allowed him to “get out of the Ottawa bubble” and understand the area’s potential.

“We’re focused on building a stronger economy and communities and municipalities, and regional municipalities are at the forefront of creating opportunities for their residents, and the federal government has a role to play,” he said.

“The more we get out into the community to understand those needs, the better we will be in our decision making.”

In March, Sohi announced that the federal government would be investing nearly $12 billion in infrastructure across the province over the next decade.

Sohi also toured the Black Historical Society of Chatham-Kent Museum in Chatham to speak to staff about potential grants.

Monday’s visit also marked the first time Sohi has visited the region.

He called the museum tour enriching, as he was “personally not aware” of the area’s history regarding escaped slaves from the United States.

Regarding grants and funding, he said his staff would be linking the museum to potential options.

“As a part of our efforts in building inclusive communities and dealing with issues of racism and discrimination, we will encourage the museum to explore options, and we are going to link them to available resources,” said Sohi.

When asked if he had had any contact with newly-appointed Ontario Minister of Infrastructure, MPP Monte McNaughton, Sohi said the two had an initial meeting, and said he looks forward to working with the Lambton-Kent-Middlesex representative.

“There is a shared goal in supporting community infrastructure and building strong communities, and we have a lot in common when it comes to infrastructure, and we will continue to build on that commonality,” said Sohi.

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