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Soccer community pitches $25-million complex

Soccer Northwest Ontario is asking city council to find $100,000 in the 2017 budget for plans to build a $25-million soccer centre in Chapples Park.

THUNDER BAY -- Over 100 people converged on city hall for pre-budget consultations Tuesday night as the soccer community announced its game-changing intention to kick it on its own turf.

The proposed $25-million Chapples Park Soccer Centre would encompass a full-size soccer field that could be divided into quadrants. Soccer Northwest would manage it and funds from the federal, provincial and municipal governments plus the Canadian Soccer Association would build it, with the door open to other partners. The Thunder Bay Chill, Lakehead Express, Thunder Bay Men's Soccer Club and Thunder Bay Women's Soccer Club have all signed onto the proposed facility's framework agreement. 

Soccer Northwest has committed $36,000 to the centre's design phase and is asking the city to find the remaining $100,000 in its 2017 budget process. 

“Soccer Northwest does not have a big budget. We don’t have a big surplus each year," said Taras Sawula, the organization's treasurer. "We’re just basing our operations on registrations but we thought we’d put some skin in the game and that would emphasize we have a real need for this and we’re serious about this.”

As serious as the soccer community is about change, things seriously can't stay the same for the state of local indoor soccer. 

"Time is of the essence," Soccer Northwest president Rosie Bava-North told council. "Indoor soccer cannot survive another year like this." 

The Sports Dome collapsed in November, causing cancellations to half of all existing indoor programs. The collapse caused Lakehead Express to cancel its entire house league program. Co-ed soccer leagues were cancelled before the dome's demise and high school indoor soccer was cancelled prior to that because of space concerns. 

Bava-North said her real fear is the city that builds between two and five soccer players who attend university on scholarships every year is turning young people away from the game. 

"I do not think our facilities are on par with other sports in our city," she said. 

"I think there are other sports that do get more attention but looking toward the future of soccer in not just our community of Thunder Bay but even globally, it has always been a growing sport because it’s really so economically feasible and inclusive, compared to other sports." 

Consultants will present the proposed Chapples Master Plan to council in April, which will include an option to convert the park into a recreation destination, suitable for hosting tournaments.

Outside city hall, 14-year-old Lakehead Express Kassie Meo said she and her teammates want a place they can call home turf. 

"We're trying to get a sports facility that can last more than 10 years for us. We want to pursue a career in soccer so we'd like something we can still come here when we're 25 and play in."

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