Sports tourism experts say a new events centre in Thunder Bay would go a long way towards attracting marquee events to the city.
Speaking at Wednesday’s sports tourism workshop, it was the universal consensus of industry experts that a state of the art facility would put Thunder Bay on a level playing field with other municipalities of a similar size.
Sport Alliance of Ontario CEO Blair McIntosh said it is quite conceivable for Thunder Bay to host national and world caliber events with a new venue.
“It’s an incredible theory, the whole build it and they will come. It really does happen,” said Sport Alliance of Ontario CEO Blair McIntosh, but warned extra promotional work is also required.
“It has to come with a very strong marketing plan, and a long-term marketing plan for the facility. A facility like that is certainly going to enhance your abilities and bring it to a new level in terms of sports tourism.”
McIntosh referenced both Sault Ste. Marie and Kingston as two municipalities that Thunder Bay could look towards. Sault Ste. Marie hosted the Scotties Tournament of Hearts women’s national curling championship in 2010, and Kingston was last year’s host.
Recent hosts of the world curling championships include cities such as Vernon, B.C., Grande Prairie, Alta., Swift Current, Sask., Lethbridge, and Moncton. Those cities all have similar populations to Thunder Bay and their event centres have similar seating to the proposed Thunder Bay design.
McIntosh added that city has a province-wide reputation of having the capacity to host events in terms of support. It’s just a matter in having the facility to match the other elements already present in the community.
“There’s obviously a very strong volunteer base in Thunder Bay, and you have more than adequate accommodations in hosting an event of that size,” McIntosh said. “It really comes down to the facility and meeting the standards for the national sports organization.”
Thunder Bay hosted the men's university hockey championships at the Fort William Gardens in 2009 and 2010, and that was another event that could return with an updated building.
John Cameron, development officer with Tourism Thunder Bay explained a new events centre would help the city catch up with other communities that have more modern infrastructure.
“A new events centre would definitely bring Thunder Bay into the realm of those cities that are about 100,000 to 150,000 to compete for those events on a national and international level,” Cameron said.
Cameron listed Sudbury, Brandon and Medicine Hat as being fairly similar population bases in which Thunder Bay could be compared to.
However, each of those municipalities has a major junior hockey team that serves as the primary tenant of their respective buildings to eat up a sizeable number of dates, and thus do not depend upon one-off events.
Canadian Sports Tourism Alliance CEO Rick Traer said while a new events centre would raise the profile of Thunder Bay as a potential host city, he emphasized the importance of making sure that it was in the best interests of the community before proceeding.
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