To the editor:
Thunder Bay’s 8,000 soccer players should have been looking forward to playing in an indoor turf facility at Fort William Stadium this winter built and operated by a private company.
The proposal from Colab Sport Management was one of the Expressions of Interest submitted to the city months ago for its consideration as an alternative to a city-owned facility.
However, instead of playing under a seasonal bubble that would go up every fall and comes down in the spring over the artificial turf there, the soccer community is out in the cold for yet another year.
There are two reasons for this major whiff by city hall: first, the majority of city councillors are too wedded to the idea of a city-owned facility; second, councillors were aided and abetted by the empire-builders in city administration who deliberately gummed up the EOI process with bizarre bits of bureaucratese that has damaged the city’s reputation for fair dealing with the private sector.
And here’s the kicker: Colab, the private southern Ontario firm, was going to pay for the bubble and to take it up and down each year.
However, instead of having negotiated a contract with Colab by now to get the bubble up and running this autumn, councillors have pushed the matter over to the next council.
It didn’t have to be this way.
A council that was truly acting as an honest broker would have made the Expressions of Interest public months ago and begun the debate on their merits. Instead, the public only discovered the details of the private sector proposals on Monday night as council is about to enter its lame duck period.
You may remember councillors, at the urging of city staff, ‘paused’ the Expressions of Interest process to wait to hear if the city would get $22 million in federal funding. This was wrong and unfair to the companies who spent time and money putting their proposals together.
And we did not need City Manager Norm Gale at the last minute pull out from beneath his suspenders a requirement that the winning Expression of Interest would have to undergo a further Request for Proposals.
This is certainly not what happened when the city asked for Expressions of Interest when the city sold the Municipal Golf Course.
After city council chose a proposal by Bruno’s Contracting to build a resort on the property, council told city hall staff to simply negotiate a contract of purchase and sale.
In the case of the Indoor Turf Facility, Expressions of Interest was the route chosen to seek the greatest diversity of proposals. Once you choose an idea put together by a proponent, you do not then go out and undermine his proposal by asking for others to provide competitive bids for the proponent’s proposal.
If that is what the city planned, then all the financial elements should have been put out in the open so potential competitors could make informed opinions and bid lower. That’s the logic of the city’s position. But that didn’t happen. City staff revealed the financial elements only to city council behind closed doors.
The “tell” that this Gale’s RFP wrinkle was hinkey was given away by Kelly Robertson, the general manager of Community Services. She called the financial details of the Expressions of Interest “proprietary” and wouldn’t be made public. That suggests the EOI’s were more than mere ‘concepts’ as city manager Gale tried to characterize them, but were substantial proposals from which a contract could be concluded through negotiations.
The Indoor Turf Facility is a perfect example of how the city is making up the rules as it goes along, leaving the private sector scratching its collective head wondering how it can ever get a fair deal from the city.
Suggesting one deal was a simple land sale and the other a more complex proposal for the use of city land doesn’t cut it. Both had complexities that were not answered in the Expression of Interest and did and would have required further negotiations. (We know in the case of Municipal Golf Course that there was no requirement in the final contract that the golf resort actually be built, an incredible oversight that suggests total incompetence on the part of someone or something more sinister. There’s still no golf resort on the now overgrown property.)
Finally, what is also disappointing is that only councillor Peng You recognized the unfairness of treating the private sector proposals so shabbily by not making them public a long time ago. Meanwhile the rest of council stayed stuck to the lobbying of the soccer community who wants the city to subsidize its activities with a municipally-owned facility.
Let’s hope voters ask candidates in this fall’s election where they stand: practical solutions or unaffordable fantasies.