Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com
Supporters of the proposed event centre gather for an aerial photo at a Citizens for Waterfront Event Centre rally on Saturday.
THUNDER BAY -- The last time the city’s mayor spoke about the proposed event centre to an assembled crowd, he wasn’t exactly in friendly territory.
This time, mayor Keith Hobbs had a more receptive audience.
Hobbs insists that from his interactions with members of the general public, they agree with the Citizens for Waterfront Event Centre group, who held a rally at the north downtown site selected for the facility.
“The answer I get most of the time is build it if it’s affordable and sustainable, and that’s what we heard today,” Hobbs said in an interview with tbnewswatch.com following his remarks.
In his speech to the crowd, he estimated that close to 90 per cent of the people he talks to are in favour of supporting the project.
The rally attracted a steady group of a little more than 200 supporters on Saturday just behind the Water Street bus terminal, with many others coming and going throughout the course of the afternoon.
It provided an opportunity for residents, such as Tanner Harris, to show support and demonstrate their desire for the project. Harris came with his wife and young son.
A new facility would fill an entertainment void that has developed in the city, as Harris doesn’t believe the more than 60-year-old Fort William Gardens.
“I just want to see Thunder Bay move forward and I think this is the next stage in that development to increase everything going on in the waterfront,” Harris said.
The purpose was to show members of council such as Hobbs, who was joined by councillors Paul Pugh, Aldo Ruberto and Brian McKinnon, that they do have backing from the public.
Jason Susin, chair of the Citizens for a Waterfront Event Centre, says it’s important to put faces behind their voices of support. The group has more than 2,000 likes on their Facebook page.
“We felt it was important to get our support behind city council,” Susin said. “We want to let the city know and encourage others who support it that we’re here.”
The mayor has not been overly surprised with how vocal the backlash has been from groups such as the Concerned Citizens of Thunder Bay.
He pointed out that matters such as building the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, waterfront development and even the naming of the city more than 50 years ago were all controversial at the time.
Susin sees the convention centre component as the big piece of the puzzle that will eventually become the crown jewel of the city.
It will fit right in with other new development in the area.
“We want to see smart growth for Thunder Bay. The convention centre, at 50,000 square feet, we don’t have that capacity right now. We really need that,” Susin said.
“We’re going to be marketable. At this location, Thunder Bay will sell.”
The project is currently in Phase 3 of a feasibility study. Hobbs reaffirmed that the project is dependent upon the results of the study as well as procurement of provincial and federal funding assistance.