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Costly option

Tearing down Fort William Gardens would cost the city a net loss of at least $2.7 million.
CEI Architecture's Conrad Boychuk addresses the public in the Fort William Gardens lobby on Tuesday night. (Leith Dunick,

Tearing down Fort William Gardens would cost the city a net loss of at least $2.7 million.

Demolition of the 63-year-old facility was just one of several options presented Tuesday night to a small group of residents in attendance at an open house held by consultants charged with looking at the what to do with the facility if and when an event centre is built in Thunder Bay.

Demolition costs are estimated at $3 million, with the land valued at about $300,000.

Other options include removing the seating and renovating the building into a multi-purpose building with retractable bleachers, leaving some seats in place at the north end of the arena or taking out all seats and removing two sheets of ice at the adjacent Fort William Curling Club to create 40,000 square feet of usable space. All of the above involve permanently removing the ice surface.

Peter McLaughlin said he’s not sure another sports complex is the best use for the space.

“What I’m thinking is we’ve already got the Hanger, we’ve got the Thunderdome at the university. We’ve got the Sports Dome for soccer and basketball. So I’m wondering if we actually need one of those facilities,” McLaughlin said.

“I’m wondering if this property could be used for something other than sports.”

Though not convinced the majority of the public backs the proposed $106.1-million event centre – he said it should only be built if taxpayers make it clear they want it – should the Gardens be replaced as the city’s go-to event centre, he’d like to see the land used in a better way.

“For me, I don’t know if they’re looking at the right options for the building. But then again, it is a big giant barn, so you’re limited to what it could actually be converted to,” he said. “If we’re looking at demolition, then we’re looking at a lot of options, like a long-term health care facility.”

Costs for potential options have not been finalized, though the consultants said they expect to bring a report to council later this spring.

What was provided was what the Gardens costs taxpayers to operate each year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Ron Bidulka said the rink brings in about $350,000 annually in revenue, against about $830,000 in operating expenses, not including capital expenditures. That’s a $480,000 loss. Combined the city’s other four rinks lose about $400,000 a year.

If the ice was left in, the gap would close a bit, but not much, if an event centre is built.

“That $480,000 could probably become $400,000 or $350,000,” Bidulka said.

CEI Architecture’s Conrad Boychuk led participants through a review of January’s first open house, explaining the options and what they might involve.

They’ve changed slightly over the past month, after listening to what the public’s suggestions, which were adamant a new use not cater to one or two user groups, but the community at large.

“While the Gardens is a spectator venue, a lot of people thought we need to have that not as a primary focus of the building,” Boychuk said.

“Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be good that when you needed it, there could be some seating. So today’s open house is going to show scenarios where there is some practical seating, recognizing that when you don’t need seating, the area under fixed seats is a waste of space, so the retractable seating deals quite nicely with that.”

The public also asked for a walking area around the current concourse to remain, an idea he said has staying power and could be incorporated into future plans. Other suggestions included an indoor dog park, a farmer’s market or a museum. They’ve kyboshed the possibility of ground-level parking inside the building and constructing a raised floor, for logistical reasons.

Losing the ice surface would likely mean a shortage in Thunder Bay, which Boychuk also addressed. His solution builds on the city’s own recreation plan, which has yet to be adopted. But rather than twinning ice pads at Delaney and Port Arthur arenas, he’s recommending another solution.

“What we’re ultimately going to be suggesting is what we should be doing is actually planning for a new twin pad, not the twinning of an existing single pad, because that’s not overly efficient. It’s costly,” he said, recommending the Delaney site.

The existing Delaney Arena would also be kept in operation under this plan.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 17 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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