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The city’s proposed event centre has caught the attention of southern Ontario politicians.
Coun. Joe Virdiramo, the head of Thunder Bay’s intergovernmental liaison committee, on Thursday said a group of delegates attending this week’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference in Ottawa got encouraging signs the $106.1-million project might get the go-ahead funding needed to move into a shovel-ready phase.
“We suspect some funding will be coming,” Virdiramo said, after meeting with multiple ministers in the nation’s capital.
“They didn’t say no.”
The city has put aside nearly $30 million for the project, with consultants recommending a downtown north core location.
Officials are ultimately eying a $100-million infrastructure fund to help cover the province’s portion of the facility, should it get the approval of council and Queen’s Park decides to chip in.
“Right now we’re in a minority government situation. We made the pitches to the two opposition parties. Even those two parties were supportive,” Virdiramo said, cautioning nothing is written in stone yet.
“We can’t say that they said, ‘Well, we’ll give you so many millions of dollars.’ No. It’s got to go through the process. But every minister we talked to knew about the event centre and felt that it was a good project and felt that it was a project that would tie in with everything that is happening on the waterfront and all the other stuff that’s going on.”
The city has already put out requests for proposals seeking private partners, potential tenants.
The news out of Ottawa had Mayor Keith Hobbs excited enough to say he’d like to see the project break ground as soon as 2016.
There are plenty of reasons to go ahead with it, he added, not the least being the eventual need to replace the 61-year-old Fort William Gardens.
Hobbs, who did not attend the AMO conference, said he’s spoken to Minister of Infrastructure Glen Murray about the project and was told it melded well with what city developers are trying to accomplish.
“This is a perfect fit. It’s going to create jobs. It’s going to bring attention again to Thunder Bay. So we’re looking at it as an economic driver for the city. And that’s exactly the way the (Ontario) government is looking at it.”
Hobbs reiterated that without funding from both the provincial and federal government, the project is dead in the water, adding he’d like to ask each treasury for about $30 million apiece – though admitted $20 million was likely a more attainable figure.
The mayor also said he’s not against scaling back the 5,600-seat facility, which would contain convention space in addition to an arena.
He’s also not opposed to a plebiscite to decide whether or not the city should spend the money, though said a plebiscite on location is out of the question.
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