THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay won’t be getting a new indoor turf facility, at least not yet, after city council voted not to award a tender for construction to Tom Jones Corporation Monday night.
The 7-5 vote does not definitively kill the project, though several councillors who supported moving forward said that could be the likely result.
On the contrary, others who voted against awarding the tender said they supported an indoor turf facility in principle.
“I know we have to fill a need in the community - people wish to have space to play sports indoors during the winter," said Coun. Mark Bentz, who voted no. "That’s something I’m committed to see happen. That doesn’t mean I support a $46 million facility."
Other councillors cited the uncertainty of COVID-19 as the main reason they couldn't proceed, at least for the moment.
“There’s no doubt that I’m a supporter of this facility," said Coun. Albert Aiello. "I’ve been very vocal about that. But given what’s happening around us right now, we really need to pause.”
Because Monday’s vote to award the tender to Tom Jones was separate from a prior vote to proceed with a multi-use turf facility at Chapples Park, administration will now work to redevelop the tender process.
City manager Norm Gale could not yet say how long that would take, but promised staff would return to seek further direction from council.
A report from administration recommended awarding the project to the Tom Jones Corporation, the lowest bidder, up to the amount of $39,194,680 inclusive of all taxes and a contingency allowance.
That includes a recent $1.6 million jump in the estimated cost.
The project's real cost to the city was estimated at roughly $46 million over 25 years, thanks to around $8.8 million in interest payments on a $16.6 million debenture necessary to fund the project.
Taking out that debenture would cost the median residential property owner an estimated $22.65 a year, city treasurer Linda Evans said.
Mayor Bill Mauro argued that showed some of the rhetoric about the impact of the project on taxpayers was overblown, pointing out the cost also wouldn't show up on tax bills until 2023.
“If you’re opposed, I respect that," he told councillors. "But to try to frame this as being this incredible burden this decision would be placing on individual homeowners is just not [accurate].”
In addition to the debenture, administration proposed paying for the project with just over $15 million already placed in a dedicated reserve fund, $1.6 million in MAT tax revenues, $3.3 million from the Renew Thunder Bay Reserve Fund, and $300,000 from FedNor.
The lack of hoped-for support from provincial and federal governments was cited by numerous opponents as a key factor.
Councillors Aiello, Bentz, Hamilton, Johnson, McKinnon, Oliver, and You voted not to approve the tender; Councillors Ch’ng, Foulds, Fraser, Ruberto, and Mayor Mauro voted yes.
Councillors Albert Aiello and Kristen Oliver had previously voted to proceed to tender with the project in August. Their change of heart proved definitive in voting it down Monday.
Oliver cited rising costs and the uncertainty of the pandemic in explaining her vote.
“Until we know what the full impact of COVID-19 is going to be, at this point regrettably I have to say no," she said.
Councillor Trevor Giertuga, who had voted not to go to tender at that time, is on a leave of absence.