THUNDER BAY -- The city will debenture $5 million to support the construction of a new $33-million Thunder Bay Art Gallery on the waterfront -- if the federal and provincial governments commit to fund the rest of the project.
Council voted to take out a 10-year debenture for the gallery's new Tugboat Basin site at its Monday meeting. The money will be paid back at a rate of $700,000 per year.
When gallery staff requested the $5 million municipal commitment in November, council floated the idea of paying for it through the 2018 and 2019 capital budgets.
But considering interest on the city's reserve funds is earning a higher return than the debenture would cost and the city would still remain within its debt ratio of 10 per cent, borrowing from Infrastructure Ontario became a more attractive option.
"This gallery, once built, won't be a 10-year building or a 20. It will be 30, 40, 50 or more years," said Coun. Iain Angus, who brought forward the resolution.
"It's appropriate that the next series of generations also contribute to the initial capital cost by the debenture."
The city committed an additional third of the gallery's $2.2-million planning stage in June. Thunder Bay will also pay $2.5 million for a road, parking and walkway around the shoreline in the next phase of its waterfront development.
The gallery's operating costs will increase from $266,000 in 2017 to $449,000. Those costs will be subject to the 2018 budgeting process.
Art gallery executive director Sharon Goodwin has been working toward moving the gallery to the waterfront for years. She said the vote is the key that will unlock access to senior levels of government.
"Now that we have council's approval and the $5 million, we can now let the federal government and the province know we have that commitment and that will help move the other applications to those levels of government forward," Goodwin said.
"We hope over the next few months, we'll have announcements from everyone and we'll start our fundraising and we'll accelerate the project."
The bigger canvass
Provided those governments come forward to fund the gallery, their investment could dwarf the city's contribution.
The federal government is being asked to invest at least $15 million in the project. The gallery has applied to the provincial Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation for $5 million. A community fundraising campaign would aim to raise another $2.5 million
Coun. Aldo Ruberto pointed out the procedure is the same kind of investment the city made in Prince Arthur's Landing, which he sees as a development success.
"We put in $22 million. We leveraged $22 million from the province, $22 million from the feds, and $66 million from the private sector. That $22 million garnished about $100 million from other sources. That's a good investment," Ruberto said.
"On top of that, we're receiving approximately $1.5 million a year in taxation, forever. So in 22 years, we get our money back and for the next 1,000 years, we have a tax stream coming in to support other things like homelessness, like roads, like art, like culture, like sports."
The art gallery's economic impact study suggests a waterfront gallery would bring an anticipated $7 million to the city annually but some councillors pointed out art's benefit is culture.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson pointed out the current gallery has 1,349 pieces of art and not nearly enough space. She cited the works of Norval Morrisseau, Benjamin Chee Chee, and Roy Thomas as Indigenous regional artists whose work would showcase Northern Ontario for the talent it inspires.
"This is an opportunity to say to our community, 'we have outstanding arts and we have Indigenous artists that are world-recognized, that people will actually come and see because they'll be able to be displayed.' Right now, you can't display them all in the art gallery."
Coun. Frank Pullia, McIntyre Coun. Trevor Giertuga, and Neebing Coun. Linda Rydholm cast dissenting votes.
Rydholm pointed out the waterfront art gallery ranked last among 14 infrastructure priorities in a community survey. It fell behind functional infrastructure like roads, bridges and stormwater drainage, as well as social infrastructure like youth centres, park enhancements, recreation facilities and trails.
She lamented senior levels of government refusing to fund the Centennial Botanical Conservatory and programs for the homeless while calls to replace the Thunder Bay District Jail and build a new detox facility are falling on deaf ears.
"I'm concerned about funding priorities here," Rydholm said.
"I'm criticizing Canada. I'm criticizing Canada and the province of Ontario for putting an art gallery above all these other things and if we agree, we'll be complicit in the priority they have chosen -- that our country and our province have chosen. I just don't get it."