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City, tennis centre disagree over bubble location

Club's proposal to put six-court bubble beside existing outdoor courts opposed by city staff, who say it could interfere with indoor turf complex plans.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council will serve as line judge in a dispute over where to locate a proposed indoor tennis centre at Chapples Park.

Council will evaluate duelling recommendations from city administration and the Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre over the ideal location for the $3.68 million, six-court bubble the club is looking to build at a meeting on Monday.

The decision comes as the organization races to complete the bubble this year to meet funding deadlines, and is complicated by continued uncertainty over the fate of the city's proposed indoor turf complex.

Administration recommends moving forward with an agreement with the club to use city land at Chapples, but raised concerns over its preferred location, which is to the northwest of its existing outdoor courts, adjacent to an existing parking lot.

Staff say that’s too close to the area where the  turf complex would sit. A city report indicates “there may be sufficient physical space” for the bubble, but that it could overcrowd the area.

General manager of community services Kelly Robertson said putting the 45-foot-high bubble there would interfere with a design concept integrating the turf facility with adjacent outdoor fields and a sliding hill, and block views of Mount McKay.

Continued uncertainty over federal funding and private sector proposals to build the turf facility mean it could end up being built elsewhere, or not being built at all.

The tennis centre, however, isn’t in a position to wait out ongoing delays on the turf project, with funding it’s received through the NOHFC attached to a completion date of Nov. 30.

The group submitted a letter from JML Engineering suggesting the site to the Northwest was ideal and would avoid building over service lines.

Instead, administration suggests locating the bubble to the south, across the road that loops through Chapples, adjacent to the fourth hole of the Chapples Park Golf Course.

It’s the option least favoured by the tennis centre, since it would offer a less direct connection to its existing outdoor courts and clubhouse, and would come with higher development costs, since it’s further from service connections.

The club also raised safety concerns over the need for players including young children to cross the road between the two facilities, though there would be on-site parking at both locations.

The city’s report estimates development costs would be only $100,000 higher in its recommended location, and suggested the city could increase its $1.5 million commitment to the bubble project if necessary to cover additional costs.

Despite the disagreement over location, tennis centre vice-president Pasi Pinta had words of praise for city staff and the club's longstanding relationship with the city.

“Between the two sides and assistance from the mayor and council, we’re optimistic we’ll be able to collaborate with trade-offs and compromises needed to come up with a location that works for everyone involved," he said.

The centre is asking council to approve its proposed location on Monday.

The tennis community, without an indoor venue since the Confederation College bubble closed in 2018, had hoped the city would include courts in its indoor turf design, but council voted against that option in 2019, instead allocating $1.5 million to help the centre pursue a future solution.

A need for indoor racquet courts was identified as a medium-term priority in the city’s recreation and facilities master plan in 2017, Robertson said.

“Generally speaking, racquet sports are on a positive trend for participation in Canada and abroad,” she noted.

The tennis centre estimates the bubble will cost $3,675,750 at its preferred location. That includes roughly $250,000 to relocate soil from a hill in the area, currently used for tobogganing.

The centre proposes relocating it across the road to the south, in the location where administration recommends putting the bubble. The club notes that's where the city's Chapples Park Master Plan envisions a sliding hill.

Administration presented the tennis centre with another option to locate the bubble directly south of the outdoor courts, but recommends against it since it would require a costly rerouting of the Chapples Park road.

With the city’s $1.5 million, the centre is close to reaching its fundraising goals. It has secured $1 million from the NOHFC and $500,000 from FedNor, and applied to Tennis Canada through its partnership with Rogers for a $200,000 capital grant.

The facility would include an office and accessible washroom/changeroom area.

Pinta described the project as “very near shovel-ready,” saying the centre is “hoping against hope” it could still complete construction this year.

It would be the only significant indoor tennis facility between Sudbury and Winnipeg, he said, and would hopefully allow the city to attract tournaments and other events.

“People are very excited,” he said. “Thunder Bay is I think the best place in the world to live, and we can make it even better. We’ve been under serviced for indoor sports facilities since forever, and here’s an opportunity to add to Thunder Bay in a very big way.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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