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Soccer leads $22.8M Chapples Master Plan pitch

The $22.8-million Chapples Master Plan would see eight new outdoor soccer fields, plus indoor recreation space for the city's largest sport.

THUNDER BAY -- Chapples Park will be identified as a "recreation zone" under its new master plan but the consultant who designed it believes it could put the city's soccer scene on a much bigger map.  

City council voted to receive the $22.77-million plan for the 131-acre park at a meeting on Monday. The plan calls for investment in eight soccer fields plus an indoor soccer and tennis facility. It would expand track and field facilities, erect a skate park and junior golf training facility, and give a facelift to Friendship Gardens.

Passive recreation would be nurtured through a new splash pad, playgrounds, outdoor skating, a sliding hill, cross-country ski trails and walking paths, accommodating all ages.     

The existing golf course would be maintained while opportunities would be expanded to accommodate disc golf.

The plan's cost estimate does not include an anticipated $14-million cost prescribed in the Recreation Facilities Master Plan to twin the ice pads at Delaney Arena. 

Sierra Planning and Management director Jonathan Hack said he sees the development remaining a neighbourhood park while gaining the potential to attract sports tourism interest in the city.  

"It's a regional facility," he said. "There are very few places that can say every game,every day they're going to have a national bearing. But from time to time, there will be tournaments hosted at that kind of location that are going to pull people in from far and wide. That's the plan." 

Hack stressed the plan ought to be understood as a guiding document rather than a step-by-step procedure. Extensive consultation since Sierra presented three options in its original Chapples Plan in November, for example, led to decisions to maintain the existing golf course and to ensure multiple park entrances were included to maximize traffic flow. 

He encouraged council to make annual funding commitments with the aim of converting ball diamonds to soccer fields over the first five years and building an indoor sports hub over the following five years.  

"It's a master's high level so there's a lot of conversation to happen on specific projects. You saw that with the conversation about the two fields to be replaced this summer but as much as possible, the intent is to stick to the plan." 

The city set aside $1.25 million in its 2017 budget for two new artificial soccer fields at Chapples, provided senior levels of government commit matching funds.

Soccer has become Thunder Bay's top sport, with over 7,000 people registered in organized leagues.