THUNDER BAY — On the heels of announcing an ambitious expansion of his regional bus services, Kasper Wabinski is turning his attention to a project he's calling the Grand Central version of a bus station.
It won't be quite on the scale of New York City's famous train terminal—which covers nearly 20 hectares—but Wabinski says his idea holds the potential to further diversify Thunder Bay's economy.
Wabinski owns Thunder Bay-based Kasper Transportation, a bus company aiming to expand into western Canada in the wake of the looming pullout by Greyhound.
He envisions a new terminal in the Intercity area to accommodate both Thunder Bay Transit and his own bus service.
But it would also "go beyond that, and expand to commercial shopping space, hotel space and maybe public event spaces," Wabinski said in an interview Monday.
"Everything can be nicely integrated in one central location, and make it easier for residents to get to that point...People can also connect with our buses to get out of town, and we can help bring more business into town."
Wabinski said he's aware of numerous properties in the Intercity area that would be suitable, but the current Greyhound terminal is not on his list. He feels it is not in the right spot, and would be too expensive to redevelop.
The businessman said he hopes Thunder Bay city council and Thunder Bay Transit will work with him in the coming months, but conceded that it could take up to five years for the project to come to fruition.
He said provincial and federal government financial support will be necessary, however the multi-million-dollar facility will ultimately have to be self-sustaining.
"This cannot be a burden to the city...it has to pay for itself, whether it's from rental revenue or from fees from companies like us paying to be there, or cost-savings to the city transit network."
Wabinski believes the project falls in line with Thunder Bay's transformation from a heavy industrial town to a "more commercial, knowledge-based" economy, along with further development of the tourism industry.
"If we can take that further, and start developing what I would say 'the ugly part of town' to a tourist standard, we could potentially have our own mini-version of Grand Marais [Minnesota] here and start attracting more traffic to spend money here," he said.