THUNDER BAY – Plans for a new multi-million dollar indoor turf facility remain in the early stages as leagues and youth programs near the end of a second consecutive winter season where demand far surpassed available playing time.
About 30 people gathered at the Italian Cultural Centre on Wednesday night to provide their input and feedback on the proposed $27 million Chapples Park athletic centre.
Kelly Robertson, the city’s general manager of community services, said the session is expanding on engagement done by Soccer Northwest and providing an update on the current status of the project.
“We’re taking that design and the information on the proposed uses of the facility and broadening it out a bit, talking to some other organizations in a fairly one-to-one, detailed approach,” Robertson said. (Wednesday night) is more about a chance for the general public if they hadn’t already seen visuals around the proposed design and to get their input.”
Demand for a new indoor turf facility has escalated following the November 2016 collapse of the privately operated Sports Dome, leaving limited options for soccer leagues and youth programs. The Lakehead University Hangar and repurposed bubble on the Confederation College campus are the only two facilities in Thunder Bay that have indoor turf playing surfaces.
Michael Veneziale, a board member of Soccer Northwest and president of the Thunder Bay Men’s Soccer League, said the sport’s growth has been subtle as leagues and programs have been challenged finding places to play and the impacts are flowing to the outdoor season as either the number of teams or length of the season needs to be capped.
“It’s a lot larger than people know,” Veneziale said. “Just the active members is in the thousands and then people off of it, just being able to see my father come watch to see my son play. The referees, the coaches, it’s jobs. It’s great. It is the largest sport in Thunder Bay and I don’t think it’s getting the recognition it needs.”
Veneziale said an indoor facility has been pursued since 2014 and acknowledged it has been frustrating for the process to take years.
“We do think it’s a positive and everything that has come back seems positive. It’s more of when is this going to happen,” Veneziale said.
“In politics there’s a lot of other steps and other setbacks with it. I believe this is the fourth or fifth study that’s taking place and the first four all came back the same. I’m anticipating this to come back the same as well.”
Robertson said the city is in the process of exploring financing options, including provincial and federal government funding, as well as the future governance model for operating the facility.
“I think this advances the project. It helps solidify in the community what type of facility they want to see, what kind of uses would be there, any kind of tweaks to the design that we have to make,” Robertson said. “It’s all moving in the right direction, in my opinion. We’re still flushing out the concept and we will likely make some suggestions to council on what the next steps might be based on the information we have at that time.”
Robertson said the city has submitted an application to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation for the $2.6 Stage 1 conceptual phase, which could cover up to $1.3 million. An update to Thunder Bay council is expected to be brought forward at a June meeting.