City manager Tim Commisso
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THUNDER BAY -- Council wants more information before it commits another $1 million to the proposed event centre.
The ask would push Phase 3 of the project to nearly $4 million. It would pay for an owner's representative, legal costs to negotiate with Thunder Bay Live and preliminary engineering and design to move the Camleot Hydro Substation. Some councillors were surprised that administration was asking for the cash and voted to send it back for another week to see if some of the other partners in the consortium could share some of the cost, whether there could be some savings in legal fees and bring a bare minimum back to council.
Coun. Mark Bentz, who requested the referral, asked why the costs were coming to council now when the Phase 3 budget was already approved and most of the issues coming back were already known then.
"It seems to come out of the blue," he said.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson said it felt like the waterfront project all over again when council was repeatedly asked to approve more funding.
"Is that going to be enough?" she asked.
It seemed like the project and the city were long on anticipation but short on assurances Coun. Ken Boshcoff said. Even councillors who are heavily in favour of the project are having a hard time explaining the costs to people in the community.
"It seems new questions arise every week.
But city manager Tim Commisso said he's confident that this will be enough to take the project to its next step, which would make it ready to submit to the federal and provincial government. It would also include a maximum cost guarantee. An owner's representative would help the city with financial and risk management. It, along with legal fees, are needed quicker than originally thought in order to get the project ready by September to hand in for funding asks.
"I'm not happy that we’ve had to bring this,” he said. "This is not the way we wanted to work."
Mayor Keith Hobbs said he couldn't believe councillors were so concerned about the cost when other overruns, like the first phase of the Golf Links project, were approved without debate. While $1 million makes people nervous, the multi-million project is not for the faint of heart. And spending money on things like risk management is a good thing.
"If you don’t have it you end up in trouble,” he said. "I'll put my mayor's chair on the line that this is a great project.”
At-large Coun. Aldo Ruberto said everyone makes mistakes. But for the most part administration has done a great job managing the city.
"I'd rather make mistakes and go forward than make no mistakes and stay where I am,” he said.
Despite being in favour of the project, Coun. Paul Pugh said he's getting worried that the city is being blinded by a big-ticket item while ignoring the needs of the public. From pools to daycare council is told it has to cut back and yet it's willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on this event centre. Maybe council needs to slow down on it for awhile.
“We’re told that we can’t afford these things, that we have to make cuts. These cuts hurt people. They hurt the people we represent,” he said. "To me the math doesn’t add up. I don’t buy that."
City facilities and fleet manager Michael Smith said delaying the approval could jeopardize timelines for the project.
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Administration will report back to council next week. It would be up for ratification June 23.