THUNDER BAY – Despite the vocal protests of two councillors worrying about spending money the taxpayer might not be able to afford, a proposed $30-million indoor soccer facility is moving on to its next phase.
City council on Monday night voted 10-2 to award a $1.54-million prime consultant contract to Stantec Architecture Ltd., whose bid was scored highest of seven received by the city in a request for proposals to design the facility, which if approved, will be located at Chapples Park.
Couns. Rebecca Johnson and Mark Bentz were the lone dissenting votes following the hour-long discussion.
“Does the city have to build it? I don’t think we do,” said Johnson, noting no other levels of government have yet to commit any funding to the project, adding that tax revenues are down and tax arrears are up.
“The community can’t really afford to build this right now.”
Bentz likened the decision to move forward now to the failed event centre push, in which the city spent millions of dollars, only to be told senior levels of government would not partially fund the project.
“I’m a supporter of this facility, but I’m not a supporter of using 100 per cent Thunder Bay tax dollars to build it. Once we make this decision, we head down that road,” Bentz said.
“This is a commitment to build. You’re not going to spend ($1.5) million not to build.”
Their concerns were heard, but the other 10 council members present chose to overlook them.
Mayor Bill Mauro laid out the case to support awarding the contract.
“The comparison to the event centre is unseemly,” Mauro said, adding he thinks the city has a far better chance to get funding through the Northern Ontario Heritage Foundation Corporation and FedNor than they did with the event centre.
“If you don’t support the project, you don’t support the project. God bless. The event centre money, I’m told, was in the range of $4 million that was expended, to $5 million. It did not go forward. This, to this point, is $1.5 (million), with a chance of being less.”
Mauro argued that with the one-time doubling of the federal gas tax and money earmarked from the newly instituted municipal accommodation tax, along with potential NOHFC and FedNor funding, the city could easily raise $18 million to cover the city's share of the overall project cost, without affecting the tax rate.
It would fill a void in Thunder Bay, where indoor soccer players have been displaced after the collapse of the Sports Dome and the closure of the Confederation College bubble.
Neebing Coun. Cody Fraser, said if the tables were turned and it was a lack of hockey rinks in the city, the conversation would be vastly different.
“Our community is changing. Our demographics are changing,” Fraser said.
Mauro said delaying the project would cost at least one construction season and possibly add millions to the cost, urging council to think of the opportunity to build something of value for the 6,000 to 7,000 soccer players living in Thunder Bay.
“Three years is going to go by in a heartbeat and you’re going to look back at what you’ve accomplished for the City of Thunder Bay, and you’re going to build a few sidewalks and you’ll have planted a few trees. And you’ll have done your best to keep the tax rate at a lower, reasonable limit,” Mauro said.
“But once in a while you get an opportunity to do something for the city. I believe that’s what this is.”
Other councillors, including Peng Yu and Current River’s Andrew Foulds, also expressed concerns about the cost and who will ultimately foot the bill, but said for the good of the community they would vote to move ahead.
“This could be a game-changer for our community, and not just soccer,” Foulds said.
Council was told that funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Fund is contingent on a non-profit organization operating the facility.
The contract cost includes a $150,000 consulting contingency.