THUNDER BAY – Matteo Bosch and his U-11 Thunder Bay Chill teammates have spent the past two winters on gymnasium floors playing a version of soccer bearing little resemblance of the beautiful game.
But for local soccer enthusiasts the dream of a dedicated indoor soccer complex became a little clearer Monday night as city council took their side by officially declaring the facility a priority for Thunder Bay, though there is not yet any firm commitment to move ahead.
Officials from Soccer Northwest Ontario brought forward to council the business plan study for the proposed Chapples Park Soccer Centre, a $25 million indoor turf hub that would be home not only for the soccer community but also providing a sheltered field for other sports like football and ultimate Frisbee.
“We anticipate that federal and provincial governments would support a funding partnership with the city of Thunder Bay provided the city designates the construction of the facility as a priority,” Soccer Northwest treasurer Taras Sawula sad.
“Our initial discussions with government partners indicate the city could obtain access to matching funds from existing and upcoming programs. We would expect the city contributions to the project would be contingent upon leveraging contributions from the provincial and federal governments.”
The facility would include one FIFA regulation sized pitch, which could be divided into two or four smaller fields. Outside, nine outdoor fields within Chapples Park would be within the immediate vicinity. As well, the building would have the potential for a future expansion that could house an indoor tennis centre.
Coun. Aldo Ruberto said it’s time for soccer to be given the same investment as other sports.
“We spend $1.5 million on operating our hockey arenas. I don’t want use them as comparisons but I have to say in this day and age this is long overdue,” Ruberto said.
“I’m extremely comfortable going forward with this project. I’m extremely comfortable saying this is our No. 1 priority.”
As part of the resolution, city administration is to report back to council by the end of the month with financial implications of the project, as well as potential sources of funding.
Community services manager Kelly Robertson said administration will also report back on whether it recommends proceeding with design and site preparation while awaiting answers on funding from senior levels of government.
“I think what’s going to be key is whether we can come up with the financing for the project,” Robertson said. “That’s going to be a key priority in the short term and that’s probably going to drive when we can go out and tender at least the construction.”
Coun. Trevor Giertuga, who correctly predicted the resolution would pass unanimously, noted the bigger decisions on whether to proceed are still ahead.
“This is the easy one to pass,” Giertuga said. “We’re not committing anything here. We’re not spending any money.”
Members of the local soccer community rallied outside before city hall before the meeting, urging councillors to take up their cause.
Matteo, who was among more than a dozen youth kicking balls around in the snow, said his team has played and practiced on high school gymnasium floors during the winter months. The harder surface can be slippery and it hurts to fall, he said.
Playing on hardwood floors is completely different than turf or grass, he added.
“When we go to a tournament it’s going to be hard for our touch because we’re not used to playing with the balls. It’s going to be hard with other balls because we’ve been playing with futsal balls, not regular soccer balls,” he said.
Tracey Miceli is a member of the adult women’s league, which was able to salvage a season playing on the CJ Saunders Fieldhouse gym floor at Lakehead University after a potential stopgap solution of using a former industrial building on Maureen Street this winter fell through.
“It’s not ideal. It’s hard running on that floor,” she said. “We’re making do for now but it’s not good.”