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Council hears pitch for immediate, interim indoor turf facility

Proposal would convert former 11th Avenue commercial building into multi-purpose field sports centre.
Robert Zanette
Robert Zanette addresses Thunder Bay city council during a meeting on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY -- A local developer has a plan to have an interim indoor turf facility playable for this fall, though his pitch would require $1.3 million from the city.

Robert Zanette, who operated the Goal Sports Centre in the bubble on Confederation College campus, on Monday night outlined his proposal to repurpose a commercial building on 11th Avenue into a winter haven for field sports.

The plan, which would include the renovation of the former Barewood Furniture building and the construction of a dome on the property, would create a four-field facility that could be ready later this year, with a total estimated cost of $2.7 million.

Zanette asked council to consider a 50-50 split.

"This request is only a one-time city grant," Zanette said. "No further supports required. What that translates to is no operational dollars, no annual deficits, no liabilities, no losses, no infrastructure deficit or gaps and no more losses in administration time trying to put this little fire out."

Indoor turf has been at a premium in Thunder Bay since the November 2016 collapse of The Sports Dome. Soccer, ultimate frisbee and touch football have been among the groups that have been affected by the lack of available time at the Lakehead University Hanger and the repurposed bubble at Confederation College.

The existing Confederation College bubble is no longer usable, Zanette said, adding its shutdown would displace the groups that have used the facility during the previous two winters.

Lakehead Express president Amy Rubino-Smart said they had 500 people registered during their most recent indoor season. 

"We could have had more but sharing only one field would have limited our time as other sports also used this facility," Rubino-Smart said. "Having a four-field facility with two fields for training and two fields for games will provide the opportunity for more people to play. This isn't just a soccer facility idea. It's a multi-purpose facility idea, which is both logical and needed desperately this fall."

Thunder Bay Touch Football League vice president Daniel Gilberds said a number of sports need a facility.

"I feel like a city of 100,000 people should probably have an indoor facility, considering we have about three to four months of nice weather in this city," Gilberds said.

Zanette said his interim solution could take the pressure off the city to take its time on a long-term solution, where a multi-million dollar facility has been explored within Chapples Park.

"Interim is we get four fields, we get up and running," Zanette said. "Being a building developer and knowing the Chapples site and some of the challenges, it's an expensive site. It might be the right site and hopefully it all comes to fruition, but that doesn't do anything for 2019, 2020."

Zanette, who had opposed a 2017 solution that would have utilized a former Maureen Street warehouse, said their business model would not allow him to exclude established potential user groups. 

"Soccer Northwest has been invited to (the Goal Sports Centre) repeatedly and don't appear to be in support of this model," Zanette said.

Council directed administration to report back.

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is honoured to tell the stories of his hometown.
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