A concept drawing of the proposed new multiplex.
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THUNDER BAY -- Coun. Rebecca Johnson is adamant now is not the right time to be considering a multiplex.
With infrastructure needs growing, the at-large representative said the city doesn’t have the money to afford its share of the $106.1 million price tag consultants have pegged for the cost of both the north downtown core site they’re recommending and Innova Park, which they rejected.
“I think that the community has to really seriously look at it as is this something we really need at this time. I think we have to make sure our roads are replaced and a few other things that we need to make sure are well developed before we do an event centre,” Johnson said Monday.
“And I certainly don’t think we have the money to do it at this point in time. The city has approximately $25 million, but we know it’s going to cost us $106-plus million, and unless that’s all in place, this community can’t absorb that kind of cost.”
Johnson said the only way she’ll support the proposal, which council will get its first official look at on Monday night, is if all of the city’s ducks are in a row.
The other issues, road repair in particular, must be addressed and covered off before her vote goes in the yes column.
“But there’s a lot of ifs before we can go there,” she said.
According to the report, produced by CEI Architecture, the proposed facility itself will cost $70.6 million to build. But site preparations will add significantly to the cost in the downtown core, including $6 million for a 200-stall parking structure, another $6 million for blasting and bedrock removal and $3.8 million for site infrastructure upgrades and modifications.
The design will cost $9 million, advancing the schedule to relocate the Camelot Street hydro substation $2.5 million and fixtures, fittings and equipment, including a new scoreboard, is $3 million.
Just to build the facility at Innova would cost $74.9 million, with $10 million set aside for a new parking lot and additional access, $4.1 million for upgrades to access roads and $3.4 million for special foundation work needed at the site.
The design and equipment costs are the same at both locations.
Coun. Ken Boshcoff agrees that the costs is high, but the need is there, he said, pointing to the 61-year-old Fort William Gardens.
"The Gardens is over 10 years past its life expectancy meaning it has to be replaced soon,” Boshcoff said on Monday. “If we are going to do this then we should do it right from the beginning, so yes this project remains a priority among other worthy items on the list."
Coun. Iain Angus said nothing has been approved by council yet and the work is far from being shovel-ready.
There’s another two or three years of work left to do before the project could be green-lighted, work that includes asking the provincial and federal governments to pony up a third of the cost each.
That leaves plenty of time for the city to make improvements to roads and sewage systems and repairing any damage resulting from last May’s flood.
“We will be at a point where we’ll be able to make the (multiplex) decisions without having a lot of unknowns facing us,” Angus. “So yeah, it is the right time.”
Red River Coun. Brian McKinnon suggested it will be three to five years at the earliest before shovels hit the ground.
“I don’t know if there will ever be a right time, but I’m suggesting that maybe if we do our math right that it is appropriate because we do have our money put aside,” he said, referring to the city’s Renew Thunder Bay fund.
A balance must be struck, said Current River Coun. Andrew Foulds, acknowledging the city, through the Disaster Relief Committee, has a role to play helping residents clean up the aftermath of the flooding and sewage back-up.
But he thinks Thunder Bay is prepared better than most muncipalities to take on a project of the magnitude of an event centre.
"Unlike some other governments and their massive cuts to services,Thunder Bay is thoughtfully and stategically moving forward increasing the annual investment in infrastructure. We have immediate needs that do need to dealt with now. However we must also think about the future. We will need to replace the Fort William Gardens. We need to plan now for the future," Foulds said.
His counterpart, McKellar Coun. Paul Pugh said the only opposition he's heard so far is about the location.
"I believe cost and financing have to be resolved before proceeding, of course," Pugh said.
Mayor Keith Hobbs asked if not now, when is the right time?
“We want to move this city forward. We want to progress as a city. This project has been on the books for a few years now. It’s probably not going to be shovel-ready until 2014 or beyond,” Hobbs said.
“If you look at the Gardens and the shelf life of that facility, we are in the planning stages. We have to do that planning and we have to do that homework.”
Hobbs did say if federal and/or provincial dollars aren’t forthcoming, he wouldn’t be comfortable moving ahead without asking the public’s permission to take out a loan.
“If we want a debenture, if we want to have the taxpayers pay for it that should go to a plebiscite. I said that when I was campaigning. It has to be affordable, it has to be sustainable.”
Council will vote on the north-core recommendation on Nov. 26. A public open house will be held on Nov. 21 at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
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