THUNDER BAY – The price tag of the event centre’s feasibility study is on the rise as the city manager warns time is starting to become of the essence.
Officials with the City of Thunder Bay on Tuesday confirmed they are requesting an additional $1 million be budgeted towards Phase 3 of the event and convention centre study, costs they say are necessary to have the project “shovel or project ready for funding applications to the federal and provincial governments in September.”
City manager Tim Commisso says administration will bring forward the recommendation to council at next Monday’s meeting and that the additional money be withdrawn from the Renew Thunder Bay reserve fund.
He added the Thunder Bay LIVE! partnership is not a permanent one.
“They’re not going to stay together if we keep punting this thing down the field. I think we have a year. If it doesn’t happen in a year the reality of the project is that it will be up to the next council to decide where they want to go,” Commisso said.
Despite the city facing projected budget overruns that have resulted in cuts across many departments, Commisso insists the request for more money has no bearing on this year’s bottom line. It will instead come from money that has been earmarked to create economic growth.
“The reality of this project is this is positioned as a project that may happen if there’s funding and that if it does happen our view is that it will be an economic driver. It’s an investment in the community,” Commisso said.
“Our operating budget is tight, there’s no question about it. But the money for the event centre is set aside in a reserve fund. That money in the reserve fund you wouldn’t normally use to fund your operating budget. Although they’re city dollars, they’re different purposes.”
Given the complexity and overall high-cost of the entire project, Commisso says such an increase is not “out of line” though he admits he is not happy about the prospect of asking for more money.
If approved, the increase would bring the cost of Phase 3 to $2.9 million and the total of all phases to $3.8 million, including funds received from FedNor and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
The additional money was presented as a necessity to try to bring both the provincial and federal governments on board and contribute funding.
The project does not have a hope of attracting senior levels of government if there are unanswered questions, Commisso said.
“I can guarantee it will never happen if you go forward without having all the due diligence done. We can’t just somehow hope that by throwing in a nice plan that it’s going to work. We have to have all the answers,” he said.
Michael Smith, general manager of fleet, facilities and transit, said the cost includes nearly $400,000 towards design fees and costs related to the hydro substation on Camelot Street.
It also includes close to $240,000 towards areas such as environmental assessments, a geotechnical study, survey of the proposed site and additional parking and traffic studies. The proposed switch to on-street surface parking created the need for further examination to determine the implications.
Other costs include a little more than $220,000 for an owner’s representative as well as about $175,000 in legal fees involving the letter of intent with Thunder Bay LIVE!.
News of the increase caught at least one member of council off guard when asked about it following Monday night’s meeting.
“I think many members of council would share my surprise it is going up by such a large amount because I had been led to believe we were getting some figures that would lower the price,” Coun. Ken Boshcoff said.
“This is not what we expected in terms of how we staged this.”
Spending the money now on the studies will prevent surprise costs later, Commisso said.
“What we’re trying to do is put as much due diligence and resources up front so that if the project is approved we can have a firm budget,” Commisso said. “We are seeking a guaranteed maximum price. In order to do that, we need to do some of this work to confirm some of the pricing.”
In addition to the request, council will also hear the results of the Ipsos Reid event centre poll commissioned by the city. Also, the schematic design will be presented by a representative from BBB Architects.
The first report of the future use assessment for the Fort William Gardens will be heard at the meeting.