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Less than 10 years ago the city of Sault Ste. Marie wrestled with a controversial project.
Facing a $15 million bill to upgrade its 50-year-old Memorial Gardens, the city decided instead to build the new 5,000-seat Essar Centre, which opened in 2006.
"You invest in a 50-year-old building, you put millions of dollars in it and at the end of the day you still have a 50-year-old building," Sault mayor Debbie Amaroso, a city councillor when the new arena opened in 2006, said. "We bit the bullet and in hindsight we're really happy that we did."
Biting the bullet was the right thing to do and its the same advice she offers the city of Thunder Bay as it contemplates a new event centre.
Along with objections of higher costs and taxes, the project ended up at around $40 million with funding from the federal and provincial governments, the Sault Memorial Gardens had a tower honouring its veterans that was eventually incorporated into the new arena, adding a highly-charged emotional element to the conversation.
"People were absolutely distraught that we would lose this," she said of the tower.
But Amaroso said the conversation has changed a lot now that the city has attracted conventions, concerts and been able to use the arena in its tourism campaigns.
"I don't hear many people today say that that was a bad decision," she said.
"As they look back I think that they're pleased that we took the heat and we moved it forward."
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