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Art gallery, indoor sports facility make city's strategic plan

Motion to remove controversial projects voted down by council, despite misgivings
McKellar ward councillor Brian Hamilton wanted a proposed indoor sports facility removed from the city's new strategic plan. (Ian Kaufman, Tbnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY – City council has approved a new strategic plan for Thunder Bay, despite concerns over two major projects included in the document: an indoor sports facility and a new waterfront home for the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

At a Monday council meeting, Coun. Brian Hamilton suggested removing specific references to the indoor turf facility from the plan, which sets out council's priorities through the end of its term in 2022. The document includes a goal to “develop key city infrastructure... such as a new multi-use indoor sports facility.”

Hamilton pointed out council has not voted to support the project, estimated to cost around $30 million. It has, however, set aside around $17 million in possible funding, as the city seeks additional investment from other levels of government.

If those investments don’t come through, “that will be a very different conversation,” Hamilton said. The McKellar ward councillor added he agrees the city needs more indoor sports venues, but didn’t want council tied to a specific project it has not formally approved.

“I would rather have a more broad [statement] where we build capacity for indoor sports,” he said. “That gives us a couple of different options – it doesn’t take us into a corner.”

A trio of councillors – Hamilton, Rebecca Johnson, and Mark Bentz – raised similar concerns about a new building for the art gallery. The strategic plan includes a goal supporting its construction in order to grow a “vibrant cultural scene” at the waterfront.

The previous city council voted to allocate $5 million for construction of the new building in 2017, contingent on other levels of government funding the rest. If built, the city is also expected to face several million in costs to build a road, parking, and walkway – as well as funding a larger annual operating budget for the gallery, currently located at Confederation College.

Hamilton said he supports the project, but still didn't think the strategic plan should include it.

But other councillors said it was far past time to approve the strategic plan and move on. The document covers the years 2019 to 2022, and has been in development for around a year. Northwood councillor Shelby Ch’ng said her colleagues had missed earlier chances to suggest changes.

“We’ve had plenty, plenty of opportunity for input, meetings that went on and on – to varying degrees of participation from this council,” she said. “I’m very disappointed changes are still being made tonight on a document that should have been passed a long time ago.”

Current River councillor Andrew Foulds pointed out the plan won’t tie any councillor’s hands when it comes time to vote on the issues.

“We have 13 people [on council],” he said. “We couldn’t possibly all love everything in this document. When I look at it, I don’t love everything that’s in here, but there is a lot to like – and I do see my priorities reflected in this plan.”

A motion to remove references to the indoor turf facility from the plan failed, with only Hamilton, Johnson, and Bentz supporting it.