City of Thunder Bay handout
An aerial view of a proposed event centre. City officials say updated images will be available soon.
A 200-space parking structure appears to be the only likely casualty as the city tries to reduce the scope of a proposed event centre to qualify for millions in federal funding.
Michael Smith, the city’s general manager of facilities, fleets and transit services, on Friday said eliminating the parking structure could drop the project below the $100-million mark, making it eligible under the recently announced $14-billion, 10-year Building Canada fund.
Anything above $100 million has to go through the federal government’s P3 funding program.
“Certainly the parkade is something that we would look at,” Smith said. “The parkade in the original Phase 2 feasibility study was $6 million, which really took it from the $100-million (cost) to the $106 million.
So the parkade is still something we’re out there looking at, saying, do we really need this?”
He added a parking and traffic study is part of the already under way Phase 3 study, expected to be completed in June.
“We’re of the belief that the parking structure is not required, which puts us into that $100-million category.”
The facility itself will remain as planned, Smith said.
Last month Mayor Keith Hobbs suggested city officials might try to lower the cost to closer to $90 million, which might have means dropping the number of seats to 5,000.
Smith on Friday said the multi-use facility, if approved by city council and built, he noted – will still have 5,700 seats, 50,000 square feet of convention space and a restaurant.
“We’re not anticipating that we’re going to have to scale it back as we go forward,” Smith said.
“Having said that, we’re certainly not going to design the facility just to meet the criteria of these potential funding sources. “
Those funding sources would require a one-third, one-third, one-third level of participation, including both the province and City of Thunder Bay and its partners. The city at present has about $22.5 million squirreled away, part of the Renew Thunder Bay fund.
Smith also addressed the ongoing question of the Thunder Bay hydro substation that would have to be moved for the event centre to be located in the downtown north core, the city’s preferred location.
He said the $2.3 million required to move the station has always been included in the proposed budget. A short-term solution would be sought to house it until Thunder Bay Hydro’s long-term plan to replace the facility is in place.
Smith said without the event centre the substation would likely remain in place for a little more than a decade.
A pedestrian walkway from the proposed event centre to Marina Park remains part of the plan.
Smith is hopeful that applications to the Building Canada fund can be made in the early fall, possibly by the end of September.
“That’s our timeline and we’ve been told that it will probably take approximately six months to hear back. That would put us into potentially Phase 4, if everything fell into place, which would be the construction, late in the spring of 2015.”
Kenora MP Greg Rickford and local MPPs Bill Mauro have voiced support for the project, but all have stopped short of promising money would be made available. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on record saying the federal government won’t support construction of hockey arenas, though the city believes the convention centre aspect might help Thunder Bay’s cause.
Council has yet to approve construction, and on Monday rejected a call from Neebing Coun. Linda Rydholm to hold an Oct. 27 plebiscite in conjunction with the municipal election on continuing the project.