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A live update of tonight's special event centre session of city council

We'll be bringing you regular updates from tonight's special meeting of council as members of the public and city council have their say ahead of an expected vote to proceed the project to Phase 5.
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Ray Smith (left) and Jon Powers discuss strategy at city council Thursday night.

We'll be bringing you regular updates from tonight's special meeting of council as members of the public and city council have their say ahead of an expected vote to proceed the project to Phase 5.

Check back regularly for continuing coverage.

12:21 a.m.

The event centre vote is passed 8-5, the project will move to Phase 5.

12:08 a.m.

"Is it viable?" asks Coun. Frank Pullia, admitting the Gardens does eventually need to be replaced, but points out roads, taxes, jobs are all ahead of an event centre on residents' priority list.

12:04 a.m.

The longer we wait, the more it's going to cost," says Trevor Giertuga, saying he'll vote to proceed.

12 a.m.

Coun. Larry Hebert says he'll oppose the motion to move to Phase 5, saying he's not comfortable with the level of funding.

"It really caused a rift on this council and I hope we can recover from it," Hebert said.

11:56 p.m.

"I knew they were ready for the hospital. I knew they were ready for the Auditorium. But this is different," says Neebing Coun. Linda Rydholm, who opposes the convention portion of the project and will vote against as a result.

11:42 p.m.

"Once this thing is built, we're all going to enjoy it," says McKellar Coun. Paul Pugh, confirming he'll vote in favour of proceeding to Phase 5.

11:34 p.m.

"I'm talking about 100s of families that have been affected, displaced and still feeling the effects of the flood of 2012," says Northwood Coun. Shelby Ch'ng, asking what she should say to her constituents if the project moves forward.

"It takes up a very large part of our debt and costs."

11:25 p.m.

Where is there any money that is not coming from the taxpayer on this list. I don't see it. Can someone show me where it is?"

"The taxpayer is paying for this big time."

11:23 p.m.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said at some point Fort William Gardens will have to be replaced. "We may have to fund it 100 per cent. This deal, right now, is 40 per cent. I like this deal right now," said the mayor, adding he doesn't want to wait 15 years to do it. "I'll be gone by then. Well, I hope not."

11:07 p.m.

City tourism manage says many larger conventions simply aren't being bid on because the city doesn't have the capacity (venue) to host them.

"We have more infrastructure to be able to attract a wider range of (events) that we haven't been able to go after," Pugh said.

10:57 p.m.

"It's new federal gas-tax dollars that we didn't get before that we're applying to this," Coun. Iain Angus said, adding moving to Phase 5 doesn't commit the city to anything.

"We're moving the yardsticks forward."

Angus admitted he'd rather funding have been one-third, one-third, one-third and encouraged council to vote in favour of improving the community.

10:54 p.m.

Coun. Andrew Foulds, Joe Virdiramo, Iain Angus, Brian McKinnon, Aldo Ruberto, Paul Pugh and Mayor Keith Hobbs have all spoken in favour of proceeding. That's the seven votes needed for this to pass. The event centre will be moving on to Phase 5, the building phase once federal and provincial funding is in place.

10:41 p.m.

Joe Virdiramo: "We have never said we're going to leave the roads behind. In fact, we're going to spend more money."

Virdiramo added a yes vote does not mean the event centre will be built.

"But the decision we're going to make tonight is a history-making decision ... If it's no, then we can't make it up in this term of council."

10:25 p.m.

"Quality of life is what draws people to a community. That's what you have to develop," says Aldo Ruberto, saying facilities like an event centre could draw professionals to Thunder Bay.

10:22 p.m.

Aldo Ruberto makes an impassioned plea to push the project forward and takes a shot at Lakehead economics professor Livio Di Matteo, who publicly opposed the project in the media this week.

"You want to listen to economists? They record history. They don't make history," Ruberto said.

10:18 p.m.

Aldo Ruberto says the city did a poor job conveying that it would not be spending less on infrastructure to take the gas-tax money and use it for the federal portion of the event centre cost:

"We found out tonight that's a myth. There's not going to be less money for infrastructure," Ruberto said.

10:08 p.m.

Coun. Shelby Ch'ng on her opposition: "It is about simply to say we do not have the funding we had hoped for. I believe the risk is too great."

9:50 p.m.

Council goes into closed session to discuss letter of intent, where Thunderwolves will play if an event cente is built.

9:42 p.m.

Coun. Iain Angus points out the $29.9 million debenture figure the city has suggested it could go to if the province only matches Ottawa's $23-million contribution is not on the table tonight and won't be voted on. Province has yet to commit any amount yet. Tonight's vote is to move the project to Phase 5, subject to funding. The debenture would be back for discussion again once the final funding allocations, if any, are known.

9:41 p.m.

City solicitor Nadia Koltun: "There is no connection between the Delta Hotel and the event centre."

9:29 p.m.

Rebecca Johnson says new figures placed in fron of her show the city has reduced the provincial contribution to $23 million form $36 million.

"What is the actuall cost to the taxpayer?"

"The city is going to be funding 52 per cent."

9:18 p.m.

City finance department tells McKellar Coun. Paul Pugh the city would pay the costs of construction through financing, then pay the loan as the gas-tax money came in. Administration was asked how construction costs would be paid up front when some of the money wouldn't be coming in right away.

9:11 p.m.

Coun. Larry Hebert says the gas-tax allocation caught a lot of residents by surprise. Says he got a lot of calls this week about the project, some for, some against.

"Others who were supportive were all of a sudden concerned about using the federal gas tax," Hebert said.

City manager Tim Commisso says the city will get about $73 million from the gas tax over the next decade, $21 million of which would used for the convention centre, $2 million for transit to deal with the Water Street bus terminal. That's $16 million more than the city got over the previous decade.

Commisso said it became clear in the new year that this was the federal funding model they'd have to look at.

"It's an eligible category. It's not new money. I agree with that."

9:03 p.m.

Linda Rydholm addressing AHL remours: "We've been hearng very different things out of Winnipeg."

9 p.m.

Facilities and fleets manager Michael Smith reiterates Winnipeg Jets American Hockey League is still very much in play for Thunder Bay.

"The commitment at ths time is that the team would relocate to Thunder Bay."

Smith says they've been talking about a seven-year deal.

it was in response to Neebing Coun. Linda Rydholm asking if Jets owner Mark Chipman would sign a binding five-year agreement to move the team to Thunder Bay.

8:51 p.m.

City manager Tim Commisso says the city will continue to increase infrastructure renewal spending:

"We estimate we will be spending $4.5 million more ... even with the allocation of gas-tax to the event centre."

Commisso says city plans to spend $33.6 million this year and it will grow to $38.1 million by 2018.

Mayor Keith Hobbs says council deserves praise for its work to close the annual $17-million infrastructure gap.

"Yeah, it's pothole season and it doesn' tlook like it. But we've done a great job this last term of council," Hobbs said.

8:41 p.m.

Consultant Ron Bidulka says cities that have funded facilities (arenas) on their own have done so from reserves or debentures. Coun. Andrew Foulds points out Thunder Bay would be spending 40-cent dollars with 60 per cent coming from other levels of government, if funding is approved.

8:39 p.m.

Northwood Coun. Shelby Ch'ng asks administration if city would get the federal gas-tax money whether or not the event centre request is successful.

"Yes," said city manager Tim Commisso.

8:23 p.m.

Thunder Bay Live's Gary Green (former NHL coach) says he's been negotiating with the Winnipeg Jets on a business deal to bring their American Hockey League team to Thunder Bay as recently as yesterday. Says owner Mark Chipman obviously needs to see a building first before signing a deal.

"I am very confident you will see True North with a signed agreement if this arena becomes a reality," Green said.

8:14 p.m.

"I don't know of anyone who has received $9.5 million for naming and sponsorship ... I find that exessive and I want to know if it's a guarantee," asks Coun. Rebecca Johnson

"We do not have in our community any large organizations or businesses," Johnson said, adding Community Auditorium failed to find a $150,000 sponsorship.

8:12 p.m.

"This is the first opportunity really to come forward and make this public," says city manager Tim Commisso on gas-tax use, after being questioned on it by opponent Andy Wolff. Commisso said the Build Canada gas-tax fund allows use in 17 categories, but the city has only asked federal government to fund the convention centre component with the $23 million it's asking for.

7:55 p.m.

Coun. Larry Hebert asks supporter Rod Bosch where he thought the Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey team might play if the Gardens was to come down.

"If the Gardens comes down, it would definitely affect thier ability to accommodate thier fan base," Bosch admitted, adding about a dozen LU event nights are slated under the current plan.

7:44 p.m.

Event centre supporter Rod Bosch says the Fort William Gardens was great in its day. "But it does not have the ability to support the technical aspects of what is needed to day."

Bosch pointed to television requirements, noting the facility would not suit most large events.

"We are in need of a new facility so we can attract national events, like the Scotties," he said, also mentioning the Brier and the Worlds. Adds Scotties will not come back until city gets a new facility.

"Don't even bother come knocking at the door."

7:38 p.m.

Facilities and fleet manager Michael Smith says negotiations with True North Sports, owner of the Winnipeg Jets, are ongoing in the drive to bring an AHL team to Thunder Bay if an event centre is built. Negotiations have been favourable, Smith added. 

"We're confident we're going to be able to secure the AHL team," Smith said, when asked directly about the where the deal stands by Mayor Keith Hobbs, who then took a swipe at media, suggesting they could report this fact.

7:35 p.m.

"I really think it's time to put up the white flag," says Frank Armiento.

7:32 p.m.

Armiento says: "My real problem with this report is the federal gas tax ... It's not new money."

"This would be a broken promise to ratify this agreement."

7:28 p.m.

Frank Armiento: "I think we all know and it's clear to everyone that there is no funding."

"The money is not there."

"This would be another broken promise to the taxpayer. Why are we spending money on a report when it is clear we do not have matching funds or a hockey team. It's clear the team is not coming here."

7:27 p.m.

Mayor Keith Hobbs asks Citizens for a Waterfront Event Centre if they know Tim Hortons gave $69 million for naming rights to CFL stadium in Hamilton.

7:21 p.m.

Representatives of Opportunity Thunder Bay discuss explosion of restaurants and businesses in downtown north core. But said "residents and supporters of this project felt swindled," upon learning city plans to use gas-tax revenues to help pay for the event centre.

Jon Pukila says city council, administration must show full transparency if they vote to proceed. Group suggests selling seat sponsorships for $240 a seat. I would raise more than $1.2 million.

7:12 p.m.

"We all know there is going to be 10 to 20 per cent in cost overruns. Guaranteed. You're lying if you say it's not," said Paul Sloan.

7:10 p.m.

The gas tax is already allocated over time, through the budget," says Paul Sloan during his deputation to council. "This money you're going to have to replace over time. It's going to come from taxes, it's going to come from fees or loans."

7:02 p.m.

"The federal government does not support funding arenas," says Jon Powers, making a deputation to council that included him giving permission to council to fire city manager Tim Commisso if federal funding can't be secured.

"This is ridiculous," Powers added.

"There's working people in the audience who pay taxes. These millionaires don't and that's not right."

7:01 p.m.

City fleets and facilities manager Michael Smith says based on a three per cent annual increase in costs, the $114.7-million event centre would cost $137 million to build in six year's time.

6:58 p.m.

If we delay (construction) how much would it cost? About the same as it would our infrastructure if we take $2.1 million out," says Ray Smith in reply to Ruberto.

6:56 p.m.

"What would be the price of this facility in six years (and) what would be the loss of revenue to the city, in terms of jobs, for the next six years," asks Coun. Aldo Ruberto.

6:55 p.m.

"If you get  2,200 fans, you're doing well in Thunder Bay," says Ray Smith.

6:36 p.m.

Ray Smith, head of the Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay and a vocal opponent of the $114.7-million project is up first. Smith says the gas-tax allocation is not new money and the $9.5 million in naming rights is being taken out of operational costs for the 5,700-seat facility.

"Therefore the amount the city will be on the hook for is $78.6 million."

Smith also questioned the city's ability to acquire naming-right sponsors.

"Those naming rights, if we were lucky to get somebody for $1 million ... you're going to get $100,000 a year."

Smith also questioned the deal with the AHL Jets and its viability.

"I think it's a stretch for a city our size to support an AHL team. Over the years I've seen many teams come and go," he said, noting the Lakehead Thunderwolves average attendance has dropped by 600 fans over the past few years.

"It's time to put this project on hold," he said.



Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 17 years and has served a similar role with TBNewsWatch.com since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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