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Mayor turns to Facebook for waterfront feedback

Mayor Keith Hobbs used social media to help him win the election last October. Now he’s turned to Facebook for the public’s thoughts on Thunder Bay’s polarizing waterfront, which city officials on Wednesday announced could cost $8.
Mayor Keith Hobbs used social media to help him win the election last October.

Now he’s turned to Facebook for the public’s thoughts on Thunder Bay’s polarizing waterfront, which city officials on Wednesday announced could cost $8.6 million more than the latest budget set a year ago.

“I would like to get some feedback on the waterfront. What would you do if you were the mayor given the situation we are in? (It’s) an unscientific poll, but I value everyone’s opinion,” Hobbs wrote on his Facebook wall on Thursday night.

Hobbs, who has friended more than 2,000 people on the website, got more than 90 responses in less than five hours.

The public opinion, as one might imagine, was split.

“Build it no matter the cost,” said Dina Marisco. “I will gladly pay for the waterfront for the next 60 years of my life. Thunder Bay needs this waterfront and so do my future kids.”

Mike Burns agreed with Hobbs’s stance that the city is too far into the project to turn back now. But, he added, the public expects changes.

“Someone has to be accountable. I think most of the city wanted a vibrant waterfront that we could all be proud of. I think the project has gotten off track and its future, Phase 2, has been jeopardized by the planners and the waterfront committee,” Burns said.

Jim Taylor believes all government projects are “understated” from the start, made to look more palatable to taxpayers.

He acknowledged stopping the project is not an option at this stage, or federal and provincial funding will be lost.

“Going forward, make sure the designers and contractors are accountable for their prices. Get a peer review of all future cost estimates,” he said.

Jennifer Beyak expressed concern about just how far the project is over budget. At $57.9 million, it’s already $13.9 million over the original $44 million estimate, made just four years ago.

“Where will it end and for how much?” she asked. “And will it be worth it?”

Harold Hunt was even more upset.

“Eight-point-six million dollars over budget at this stage of the project is unconscionable,” he said. “Yes get it done, but the taxpayers aren’t a bottomless well to draw from. Shorten the leash on project management, ensure accountability and fire those who mismanage before we are looking at even larger numbers over budget.”

However, like Marisco, not everyone shared those sentiments.

"Spare no expense. Do it right or don't do it at all. It needs to be done and it needs to be done right. Yeah, it's coming in over budget, but so does every other job," said Darren Foulds.

"Just look at Duluth's waterfront and Canel Park," said Lee Gibson. "Do what they did and that's all ya gotta look at.Thunder Bay needs that."

Several posters suggested the private development, worth more than $65 million, should be removed from the project.

“Scrap the hotel and condos,” says Terry Kosolowski. “They can be built at a later date off the park property, oh, let’s say on the Pool 6 property.”

Betty Cummings expressed similar sentiments.

“I agree with all the other taxpayers, scrap the condos. These would only be affordable for the rich and famous,” she said, adding that the mess was dropped in Hobbs’ lap and she recognizes Phase 1 must be completed.

Meanwhile Andrew Faiers compared the project to renovations on his house, saying if it was 17 per cent over budget just to pour the foundation, he’d be “sweating bullets.”

“Audit the expenses. There should have been big questions when they were $200,000 over. Let’s think: $8.6 million could buy 46 brand news houses at $200,000. This is just what is over, not what is being spent (and) this is just Phase 1,” he said.

This led Margaret Stocco to suggest the park be developed in stages and cost containment is a must.

“If the overrun is significant, something has to go. If costs are on budget, it’s given the green light to proceed. We can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” she said.

Claudio Monteleone said the city should have had a Plan B and city officials failed to take into account the economic situation and higher costs of construction.

While he too believes the Thunder Bay is beyond the point of no return, Monteleone said there’s still time to rein in costs.

“It would be nice to have your chocolate cake and eat every crumb, but the fact remains that we may have to settle with a vanilla cake of a smaller size. Just like any business, the right decisions must be made,” he said.

“You must look at the overall picture, complete the project in a way that is cost effective, sound, and will benefit all involved in a positive and financial way. If this means revising the plan or scaling back on some endeavours, so be it.”

Council will vote Monday whether or not to accept city administration’s recommendation to proceed with the project as planned, using money set aside to build the new marina in Phase 2. Eight of 10 councillors contacted by have said they plan to support administration.

Mayor Keith Hobbs' Facebook

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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