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Delay decision on indoor turf facility, city manager urges

Thunder Bay’s city manager Norm Gale cites financial impact of COVID-19 in recommending council delay decision to late 2021.
Multi use indoor turf rendering - outdoor
A preliminary rendering shows the proposed multi-use indoor turf facility.

THUNDER BAY – City manager Norm Gale has stepped into the fractious debate over a proposed $33 million indoor sports complex, recommending a decision on whether to build the facility be delayed until as late as November of 2021.

Thunder Bay’s city council is set to debate approval of the project on Monday, but could choose to defer the decision based on Gale’s advice.

In a memo to the city committee examining the project, dated Aug. 4, Gale cited concerns over the financial impacts of COVID-19, as well as a lack of external funding for the project.

The city’s latest financial forecast estimated the pandemic could cost the municipal government $7 million in 2020. Gale’s memo suggested those impacts could continue into 2021 and beyond, clouding the city’s financial future in uncertainty.

In recommending city council delay the decision on the indoor turf facility, Gale was careful to note the advice was unrelated to the merits of the project itself, which he praised.

“In my view, the project is well conceived, and [the city has] been thoughtful and duly diligent so that a fine project is shaping up,” he wrote.

He urged council to defer the decision until as late as Nov. 2021, for inclusion in the 2022 budget. That would allow the facility to begin construction in spring of 2022 and open in late 2023, he advised.

Two city councillors called for a delay of the project earlier this week, while another recently flagged concerns it could cost the city more than $40 million, after accounting for interest on a $15 million debenture that would be required to fund it.

Mayor Bill Mauro, who has championed the project, said as recently as Wednesday that he continued to support it.