The proposed downtown north core location for a proposed $80-million to $100-million events centre could look something like this. The city is also considering Innova Park and an airport location.
Tim Commisso says he thinks the upper threshold the city would be willing to absorb to build a new events centre would be 50 per cent of the expected $80-million to $100-million cost.
The city manager also on Friday said the 6,000- to 6,500-seat proposed facility would cost taxpayers about $900,000 in subsidies to operate, something the consultant charged at evaluating the city’s three preferred sites has said is commonplace across the country.
“I don’t think there is any mid-size venue that breaks even,” said Conrad Boychuk, a senior director with CEI Architecture, one of the consulting firms that will be presenting at Wednesday’s events centre open house at the Italian Cultural Centre.
“It’s part of your infrastructure and you don’t expect it to break even, quite frankly.”
Fort William Gardens, which the events centre would replace, costs taxpayers $600,000 a year in subsidies, similar to the contribution taxpayers make to keep the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium operational. A decision on the future of the Gardens will be made once the events centre is OKed or turned down by city council.
The facility would also include a conference centre, which city officials are hoping to use to attract federal government funding through the P3 fund, money the city was denied during the first round of funding announcements.
Commisso said the overall cost of the facility would depend on the location. The city is currently looking at three sites: a north downtown core location at the Water Street bus terminal, Innova Park and on lands adjacent to the Thunder Bay International Airport.
Boychuck said most new mid-size facilities are being built in downtown cores, which tend to be more expensive builds, but come with higher economic spinoffs.
Commisso said the city has called in the consultants to get an unbiased report on what’s best for Thunder Bay and its residents, should council ultimately decided to move ahead with the project.
On that there are no guarantees, Commisso reiterated.
“We’ve said all along it’s about planning for the future. We can do this now or we can do it five years from now or 10 years from now,” Commisso said. “We’ve taken the view that this council said let’s take a good look at this.
“We are dealing with some tough economic times. There’s no question, particularly with the question of funding, in terms of federal and provincial funding.”
The local economy, he added, is experiencing growth, and the future looks promising, if the economic cards fall into place.
“We’re also seeing that in five years or 10 years we could look a lot differently if we can get the mining piece going. So I think now is a good time to plan, but not to be naïve about it. I’ll say it again. If the money is not there, if we’re not able to secure the funding, this project could have a shelf life of three to five years.”
The life expectancy of the Gardens, built in 1951, is about two decades.
Commisso also touched on the suggestion a plebicite, putting the question of an events centre to the public, which he said would be entirely up to council. The current study and a location would need to be known before it would be a viable question for the ballot, he added.
A traffic and parking study will also be part of the consultants' report.
Boychuck said a new facility could last as long as 70 years from a structural standpoint, though from a patron standpoint it’s probably a 20- to 25-year venture and from a business aspect it could be obsolete in 20 years. The city has set aside $25 million already to cover its share of the cost, through the Renew Thunder Bay fund.
No serious talks have been held yet with prospective anchor tenants, though Commisso said Ice Edge Holding's Anthony LeBlanc has continued to express interest in bringing professional hockey back to his hometown. The Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey team is the main tenant at the Gardens, drawing between 2,100 and 3,500 fans a night this season.
When asked Friday, LeBlanc gave a one-word response.
"Yes," he said.
Wednesday's meeting is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at the Italian Cultural Centre on Algoma Street and end at 9 p.m. Presentations will be made at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., with question-and-answer sessions to follow.
"We're there to listen to the community," Commisso said.
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