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City sits on 5 indoor turf proposals as it awaits funding

No decision on outside proposals for multi-use facility until city hears back on massive federal funding application.
Tournament Centre Soccer Turf
Local soccer groups have been without a permanent indoor venue since 2016, instead turning to solutions like a converted rink at the Tournament Centre. (Leith Dunick, TBNewswatch/FILE)

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council has five outside proposals for construction of an indoor turf facility to consider, but it’s in no rush to get started.

Instead, the city will pause its Expression of Interest (EOI) process while it awaits an answer on a $22 million funding ask to the federal government – with the timing of that answer uncertain.

If approved, the city’s application to the federal Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) program would pay for just over half of a $43 million design, potentially negating the need for the city to work with the private sector through the EOI process at all.

Senior staff presented the barest details on the responses to the EOI process at Monday's council meeting.

The city received eight responses, said city manager Norm Gale, with five meeting minimum technical qualifications, after being reviewed and scored by a committee of city staff.

Gale presented no information on the companies behind the designs, or how much they would cost.

Coun. Mark Bentz called it “very promising” to see there were so many options on the table, but said it made sense to put them aside for the moment.

“I think your reasoning for the pause is really valid,” he said. “There’s a chance of achieving a significant grant towards a sustainable building.”

While councillors received a closed-door report on the proposals, at least two councillors said Monday they hadn't seen the proposals and knew little more than the public about them.

“City council is not privy to the details of the submissions,” said Coun. Brian Hamilton. “We’re waiting for the information just like the public.”

The city invited companies to submit their own designs for an indoor turf facility through the EOI process in July, with wide leeway to offer shorter-term solutions like soccer bubbles, build at locations other than Chapples Park, and pitch operating arrangements like public-private partnerships.

That call to the private sector was launched after council narrowly voted down a $39 million tender for a design it had previously approved, with concerns over mounting costs and the financial impact of COVID-19.

The city received eight EOI responses, four long-term solutions, and four short-term solutions, which were reviewed and evaluated by a staff committee.

Of those, two short-term proposals and three long-term proposals achieved the minimum 70 per cent score on technical evaluation criteria, making them eligible for further consideration, said city manager Norm Gale.

Gale told councillors administration opted not to make any recommendations to move forward with the proposals until an answer is received on its application to the GICB program.

The city has recently received follow-up questions from the government on its application, which Gale called a promising sign.

“[Infrastructure Canada] indicated that there is no timeline for them to give us any information on a potential response," he said. "We also have no intelligence whether we’ll be successful in the funding program, but we’re hopeful indeed, and Infrastructure Canada is asking us questions about the proposal.”

The city would have to build to a net-zero emissions design to qualify for the GICB program, intended to promote green and accessible public facilities in “underserved communities” across Canada.

That’s estimated to bump building costs by around 15 per cent, but with the feds covering just over half of costs, staff suggested the arrangement could assuage cost concerns at council.

The GICB is the same program the Thunder Bay Art Gallery applied to for its planned new building on the waterfront, while Fort William First Nation is also seeking $25 million from the fund to build a long-term care home.

Administration committed to report back to city council on the turf centre in February.

Ian Kaufman

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