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The report card is in and the downtown north core has won the latest stage in the proposed multiplex race.
Citing economic impact as their No. 1 reason, consultants on Wednesday said they are recommending city council choose a Port Arthur location over Innova Park to build the 5,700-seat facility, expected to cost $106.1 million.
City manager Tim Commisso said both sites have their benefits, but in the end the downtown north core simply made more sense.
“We’re seeing a sort of change happening and we’re seeing that change being complimentary. The redevelopment of the downtown if this project moves ahead – and I say if because we’re still a long way away – will in (the consultants’) minds be more of a sure thing, especially if you have a conference component,” Commisso said.
Consultant Conrad Boychuk, the executive director of CDI architecture and the author of the feasibility study, said downtown location would help build on an economic revival in the area that’s already under way.
“The downtown waterfront site is going to generate a lot more economic impact and have a lot more of a beneficial effect on both the region and the actual site area. It’s got the kinds of enhancements and the kind of spin-off areas that you just wouldn’t see with Innova Park,” Boychuk said.
“Innova is a good site, but it’s a disconnected site. It’s not in the centre of anything. It’s well-accessed, but doesn’t exist in the context that’s going to get animated by the development of this type of a building.”
According to the report, the centre, which would include a hockey rink and a convention centre, plus a 200-unit parking facility and a private-sector restaurant, would generate up to $149.4 million in direct and indirect spending during construction , and provide about $79 million in employment income growth, providing senior levels of government with up to $17.4 million in additional taxes.
The plan would also see a portion of Van Norman street turned into a pedestrian walkway.
Port Arthur out-scored Innova Park in four categories, vision, complimentary to business, economic impact and city building. The two sites were equal in cost impact and accessibility, while Innova Park won out in the parking category.
The city’s share of the project, which city officials would like to see started as soon as 2014, would be $35.4 million. Of that $25 million has already been set aside in the Renew Thunder Bay fund, and the rest would have to be found through other funds.
The 200,000 square foot project won’t go ahead unless the federal and provincial governments can come up with the remaining $70 million.
Independent MP Bruce Hyer on Wednesday said he fully supports the plan and will lobby the federal government to pony up the money to pay the one-third cost the city is counting on.
Mayor Keith Hobbs, who originally favoured a south-core location, said the consultants’ report has swayed his opinion.
“They produced the evidence here today that shows the waterfront is the best site for economics, jobs and the spinoffs for other businesses to grow in the area. The homework has proven it,” Hobbs said.
The mayor said he’s highly confident the project will move ahead and that council will approve the latest phase when they vote on Nov. 26. They’ll receive the study on Monday as a first report, and an open house is scheduled for Nov. 21 at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
“All the talk in that I’ve heard in the community is that (the public) wants (a multiplex),” Hobbs said, not ruling out a plebiscite in 2014 should the feds and province not come through with funding.
“We need to move this city forward and this isn’t a slam on previous councils, but I think Thunder Bay was stagnant for a lot of years. Now we’re seeing growth. We’re seeing a lot of growth in this city. This event city will be a huge piece of the puzzle.”
The multiplex is expected to created between 285 and 380 jobs if completed, and would cost taxpayers $1.4 million in subsidies each year between the hockey rink and the convention centre.
The report also suggests an American Hockey League or Ontario Hockey League team would a more desirable tenant than the Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey and basketball programs.
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