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THUNDER BAY -- Chris O’Reilly says they were trying to stay away from a traditional hockey arena concept.
Michael Smith, City of Thunder Bay's facility manager (Leith Dunick,

THUNDER BAY -- Chris O’Reilly says they were trying to stay away from a traditional hockey arena concept.

On Tuesday the partner at BBB Architects unveiled the preliminary design for the proposed $100-million Thunder Bay event centre, a 5,700-seat facility that would be able to house 7,200 for concerts and includes 50,000 square feet of dedicated convention space in the city’s downtown north core.

“We wanted to stay away from the stereotypical arena look,” said O’Reilly, the younger brother of former Boston Bruins great Terry O’Reilly.

Aesthetics were important said O’Reilly, whose firm has built several rinks of varying size around the world.

The functionality they’ve got down pat, he said.

Making it work in Thunder Bay was the biggest challenge in presenting city council and the public with the first real views of what the facility might look like.

“The issue here was dealing with the site, trying to capture the Thunder Bay feel, which is a strong message on natural materials – rock, wood, glass – trying to capture your amazing view out to the water,” O’Reilly said.

The building, which includes 23 luxury boxes, a team store an 8,000-square foot banquet hall, four sport suites, two group suites and a 600-seat club area, has been designed for just that purpose, with large glass windows overlooking the lake from the banquet hall.

“We’re trying to take some cues from the new buildings that have been built on the waterfront and bring that into the architecture and the language. It’s a very strong, forward-thinking, contemporary look, which not everybody will be able to relate too,” O’Reilly said.

“But I think it’s important to set the tone for the Thunder Bay of the future and for the next generation.”

First and foremost, said Thunder Bay Live spokesman Gary Green, residents shouldn’t look at the project as solely an arena.

It’s so much more.

Although the Winnipeg Jets remain committed to moving their American Hockey League team to become the primary tenant of the facility, hockey is only one of many different types of events that will be staged in the event centre, should council give the go-ahead in the next 12 months.

Green cautioned it’s a work in progress and nothing has been finalized.

“And it’s very important through this transparent process that we have the public’s input,” Green said.

He can’t say enough about the location, which has been a controversial choice since it was first announced in 2012.

“That’s what we call in the television business and absolute beauty shot,” he said. “That beauty shot means a great deal to attract major events.”

The centre should also prove to be an economic driver for the city’s economy, Green added.

“This will be a destination point that this city will be proud of,” said Green, whose Thunder Bay Live signed a letter of intent earlier this month to partner with the city to operate and construct the event centre should it go ahead.

On that end, Michael Smith, the city’s facility manager, said Thunder Bay Live has promised to deliver and absolute final highest cost by the end of July, including final plans.
Smith said he’s hoping to have the Phase 3 studies completed at that time.

“That will give administration the opportunity to report back to council in August sometime, probably the latter part of August,” Smith said. “Then it gives us the opportunity of putting our (funding) applications together and submitting it by the end of September. We’re anticipating that all things considered a six-month review by the funding partners.”

Construction, if approved, would start next June, with an opening date of September 2017.
A citizen survey, which included landline and cell phone participants, is expected to be unveiled next month.

The public is invited to an open house, starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, at the Italian Cultural Centre on Algoma Street.




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