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Chapples Park indoor turf centre takes priority over event centre (2 photos)

City manager tells council the event centre is not being pursued at this time.
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THUNDER BAY – The city has narrowed its focus to a nearly $30 million indoor turf complex as the priority for a new major recreational centre, effectively placing the event centre on the backburner.

Thunder Bay city council on Monday night received an update on the proposed Chapples Park facility and consideration to developing an interim site with a sheltered artificial turf playing surface for year-round use. Council voted to affirm the priority need for indoor turf as well as to launch a process to look at possibilities for a more immediate fix.

Coun. Rebecca Johnson had questioned having multiple large capital projects open, potentially leaving possible funders questioning the city’s direction.

“We have an event centre on the books that we have not pulled back so I’m assuming it’s still there. If it is, now we are proposing an indoor turf facility and I’m assuming we’re going to the same levels of government to get some funding,” Johnson said.

“Are we not sending mixed messages to government and the various levels and the organizations that fund?”

The event centre, a combined arena and convention centre project, most recently had an estimated price tag of $115 million. Funding applications had been rejected by both the former Conservative and current Liberal federal governments for a partnership that would have seen the Winnipeg Jets’ minor league affiliate team based out of Thunder Bay.

A subsequent effort to feature the Lakehead Thunderwolves as the arena’s primary tenant has since fizzled.

“We’re working on the soccer-plex as directed by council and as requested by many people in the community,” Gale said.

“The event centre is dormant. We know the current iteration will not be funded by government the way it is and we intend to look at that again. If useful or appropriate we’ll bring something back to council but at this time we’re not pursuing an event centre.”

Demand for an indoor turf facility has been on the rise since the collapse of the privately-operated Sports Dome in November 2016. A supply and demand analysis determined the demand during peak season primetime hours would exceed available field time by more than 1,000 hours, with soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, cricket and rugby serving as likely user groups.

City officials and Soccer Northwest Ontario have been exploring the possibility of a new Chapples Park indoor turf, which would have a full-size FIFA regulation pitch that could be separated into smaller fields. It’s most recent cost estimate is $28 million, with uncertainty about whether funding can be secured from senior levels of government.

Kelly Robertson, the city’s general manager of community services, last week said the permanent facility would optimistically be three to five years away, creating the need for a more immediate solution.

Council approved launching a $40,000 request for an expression of interest for non-profit and private sector partners to come forward with possible interim solutions, with a deadline of next January for administration to report back.

The report provided to council identified three potential sites – Fort William Stadium, St. Ignatius High School and a newly constructed artificial turf field at Chapples – where a dome structure could be installed over the surface for year-round use.

Soccer Northwest Ontario board member Michael Veneziale agreed there is a need for a short-term facility.

“We’re at the point where there are going to be programs that are going to be completely shut down,” Veneziale said. “We said it four years ago but we’re in dire straits now. We need something and there are possibilities we believe could happen sooner rather than later.”

Council approved launching a $40,000 request for an expression of interest for non-profit and private sector partners to come forward with possible interim solutions, with a deadline of next January for administration to report back.

The report provided to council identified three potential sites – Fort William Stadium, St. Ignatius High School and a newly constructed artificial turf field at Chapples – where a dome structure could be installed over the surface for year-round use.




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