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Big chance for Big Thunder

Start small, is what Friends of Big Thunder say when it comes to their desire to see the facility re-opened.
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Paul DeGiacomo, was part of a delegation that went before city council two years ago to ask for support to re-open Big Thunder. (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com)
Start small, is what Friends of Big Thunder say when it comes to their desire to see the facility re-opened.

Paul DeGiacomo responded to a three-week deadline the province gave potential investors to submit a letter of intent expressing interest in redeveloping Big Thunder, a former world-class ski jumping and Nordic facility that has been shuttered since 1996.

"This is the first opportunity, and I’m going to call it a huge opportunity, that stakeholders now have to do something and identify to the provincial government that there is a need and a want for the site to be re-opened again," said DeGiacomo, who was part of a delegation that went before city council two years ago to ask for support to re-open Big Thunder.

DeGiacomo said he’s been asking potential supporters to let the province know just that before the March 4 cutoff, indicating that the Friends of Big Thunder’s vision for the park involves more than just winter sports.

"We see it open not as a six- or seven-month facility, but as a 12-month facility or a high-performance training centre. You’ve got to think out of the box and think a whole bunch different than what it was when we shut the place down," he said, standing on a snow-covered road at the base of the hill where a locked fence guards the lonely perimeter – though tracks are visible up and down the old jump areas.

He suggested riding trails, mountain biking and hiking as potential off-season uses, and said that the Nordic ski stadium could be up and running in as little as a week, if the wherewithal was there to make it happen.

Sitting as it is, however, is doing no one any good, other than costing taxpayers six-figures a year. DeGiacomo added it will probably take some sort of public/private partnership to get going.

"The intent is that we’re going to start small, with the understanding that whatever the site can sustain financially and build on that. I believe that the site itself has so many new opportunities that can be used that have not even been tapped yet," he said.

He’s not sure why the province, which bought Big Thunder in 1984, has set such a tight deadline. It’s a question he would like answered.

MPP Bill Mauro (Lib., Thunder Bay-Atikokan), who has pushed for the site’s re-opening for the past six years, said the province knows the historical uses of the property are probably not sustainable and there are significant liabilities with it as it stands, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome.

"We just keep looking for a way to make this particular piece of property, which is quite incredible, available to the public. Quite frankly right now it’s not, and we’ve known that for 15 years," Mauro said, adding the calls to do something are starting to get louder and louder.
"We continue to search and explore and try to make this part of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario once again."

On Sunday the Canadian Press reported that Ski Jumping Canada intends to ask the province to provide a ski jumping facility in Ontario, the plan being to refurbish Big Thunder.

The association said there aren’t enough facilities to properly train athletes in the sport, leading to poor performance on the world stage. The request comes days before the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, which open Friday.

Canadian ski jumpers are not expected to fare well.