Smoke Break. That will be the name of a new private pool hall in Portage la Prairie.
Despite objections from residents who live in the neighbourhood of 601 Tupper St. N --- Centennial Hall -- city council approved a conditional use application for a private club operating as a pool league to open at the site. It wasn't the first time a pool hall proposal has been brought before council in recent months. Previously, approval was given for a pool hall to open in a space at Saskatchewan Ave., and 19th St. SW., in close proximity to a daycare.
"It was a nice location, but there was some strong objections from that daycare," says Pool Hall spokesperson Dave Kirkbride. "And you've got to look out for kids. We understand ... so we looked for somewhere else to go."
When the pool hall proposal was brought to council in September 2016, opponents cited concerns about plans for the establishment to apply for a liquor license, and the subsequent crowds it would attract. Those concerns remained with residents in the neighbourhood of the new location, as council received one letter of opposition, and had several people speak out against allowing the approval of the club -- which still plans to apply for liquor licensing and offer late-night hours of operation.
"I'm worried about people coming into my yard when I'm not home," one resident says. "I had my house broken into quite a few times already when socials went on (at Centennial Hall) years ago. And that's pretty much what I'm worried about, I have three small children."
Kirkbride calls the negative perception tied to pool halls an "outdated look."
"People are viewing movies from the 1970s and 80s, (that show) them as rough and tumble places. It's far, far from that now," he says. "Pool leagues are growing and growing. In Winnipeg ... they had pool league playoffs at the Assiniboine Downs for two weeks, there was pool tables for as far as the eye could see."
"There was no fights, there was nobody getting stabbed," Kirkbride continues. "People go there to compete ... Portage has no where to play pool. We want to give people a place to play pool and have some fun."
There were some concerns expressed by councillors about the language used in describing the club. As originally tabled, the motion was to allow a "private club" to operate at 601 Tupper St. N. Coun. Ryan Espey tabled a motion to defer the matter until a later council meeting, to allow for more time for additional research on what governance and regulations exist on private clubs. That motion was defeated.
Coun. Brent Budz was in favour of granting approval for the club to operate, pointing to the fact that Centennial Hall is simply a vacant building now, and this would create a new space for the community.
Kirkbride agreed: “...that building has been empty and vacant for too long, and there's no where to go in the north end. If you want to go sit and watch a hockey game or baseball game, where can you go?”
Council eventually passed an amended motion allowing a "private club operating a pool league" to open.
The Portage Planning District did instruct council it could pass a motion with restrictions on hours of operation or activities within the club -- presumably to appease the concerns of residents -- but no councillor tabled such an amendment.
The new private pool club already has 35 members, Kirkbride says, and six tables installed. There is work being done to add more pool tables in the near future, and a big screen projector will be put in.
With approval now granted, it won't be long until the business opens its doors. Kirkbride says it will open to members as soon as tomorrow. The membership application process is still under consideration, but Kirkbride says they definitely "don't want a tiny, tiny private club."
"You want to be able to make some money at it too ... we wouldn't want to make anything to difficult for people, and don't want to discourage people from becoming a member," he explains. "That's quite the opposite of what we want. We want to be able to control the environment, that's part of it."