Chamber of Commerce Raises Questions on Proposed Chapples Indoor Turf Facility

Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce President Charla Robinson Received the J Carnegie Award
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce President Charla Robinson

THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce has some serious questions for City Council and City Administration over the building of the Indoor Turf Facility.

The Chamber has released a letter sent to Mayor Mauro and members of Council written on July 10, 2020.

Charla Robinson, President of the Chamber of Commerce is calling for greater levels of community engagement over the proposed facility.

City Council has made the Indoor Turf Facility a top priority over the past year, and along the way has started to see increased questions from citizens. The Chamber is one of the first major organizations in the city coming forward questioning the project.

The Chamber writes, “The City of Thunder Bay is inviting community feedback on the proposed Chapples multi-use indoor turf facility until July 19th with a report to be presented to Council on July 20th. The community engagement process that has been outlined to date provides a slide deck and virtual presentation about the physical features of the facility. The engagement platform does not provide any information relating to the final projected capital cost, operating costs, revenue and usage projections, or a business plan for the facility. As a vocal advocate for transparency and fiscal accountability from our governments, we are concerned with the absence of a publicly available financial and business plan to ensure that the community is fully informed about this significant and costly project as part of this engagement process.”

There is an online forum from the City right now, however, it does not offer participants the ability to get questions answered.

On the City Website it states, “Stantec Architecture has been retained by the City of Thunder Bay to design the new proposed Chapples Multi-Use Indoor Turf Facility. It was Stantec’s plan to set-up a Public Presentation to the entire community of Thunder Bay, but with the current world situation, we are unable to congregate at this time. The public presentation will instead be virtual.”

Thunder Bay City Clerk Krista Powers advises, “Deputations can be requested at the following link.

https://forms.thunderbay.ca/Speak-to-City-Council

“Currently we are accepting requests (within the requirements of the procedural by-law) either in writing or virtually using MS Teams. “

Chamber of Commerce Seeks Answers on Turf Facility

Here is what the Chamber is asking: “As the current engagement process does not provide a public forum for questions to be raised and answered, we submit the following and ask that information be made publicly available to address these questions prior to the closure of the current community engagement process:

  • What is the business plan?
  • What is the financial breakdown of operating revenues and expenses?
  • What is the net operating impact to the City of Thunder Bay?
  • What are the schedules that inform user revenue projections regarding daily usage?
  • What information has been provided by the CEDC and Tourism Thunder Bay on the economic impact projections of this facility for our community?
  • Have any private partners such as local sporting groups committed to capital contributions? If so, are there any agreements relating to priority scheduling for funding partners?
  • Does the building design include loading doors of at least 14’ that allow trade show hosting capacity?
  • Does the plan include purchase of a solid floor to cover the turf for trade show events?
  • Does the building design include air conditioning?
  • What type of kitchen facilities are included for concession and catering?
  • Have the senior levels of government committed/approved funding contributions? If not and if there is a funding shortfall, what is the plan to finance this project?
  • What will the property tax implications be?
  • Will this facility compete with the private sector turf facility that is currently in progress?

“In recent months, the City of Thunder Bay has hosted virtual townhall sessions to provide information and respond to concerns during the pandemic. We suggest that a virtual townhall session should be scheduled, with sufficient notice and promotion, to allow the above and other questions to be brought forward by the community and answered in a public forum.”

There are varied views on this project emerging from Council members.

Kristen Oliver
Westfort Councillor Kristen Oliver – Stock Image NNL.

Westfort Councillor Oliver tells NetNewsLedger, “The application has been made and requirements as part of the application have been completed so until a decision is made at the provincial level, there is nothing that she can respond too as we are in a holding pattern.

“There are reserve funds currently dedicated to the Multi-Use Turf facility. There are also other reserve funds that council can dedicate to expenditures associated with Covid-19. There are some unknowns as to the full financial impact of the pandemic but at this point, it seems manageable with the available reserve funds.
“Thunder Bay like most municipalities, is certainly dealing with an unprecedented time. I also believe that we may weather this storm better than others. But having said that, it is anticipated that the provincial and federal governments will put together a municipal support program. I also suspect that stimulus funding programs will be announced to kick start the economy. A shovel ready project is often an attractive area to dedicate support.
“I think it is incumbent on municipal leaders to ensure that the community has access to facilities to promote healthy living. This building will offer a variety of recreational opportunities that will enhance our community while serving both young and not so young. We have a growing international student population so investing in infrastructure that meets cultural needs helps to build an inclusive community. The multi-use turf facility could also house pow-wows and strengthen relationships with Indigenous people.  This investment is much more than a sports facility.
“Our community fabric is changing requiring us to plan accordingly as we have outgrown some of the current facilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because change can be good. There is increased interest in a variety of sports where we were once just a hockey town. We can either hang onto under-utilized facilities or plan accordingly to make Thunder Bay attractive for those who live here or are considering making this city home”.

Current River Councillor Andrew Foulds says, “Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your questions…

“There is no question we are living through unprecedented times.  The challenges that individuals and municipalities are facing is enormous.  The challenges include but are not limited to financial, logistical as well as from a health and safety perspective.
“The City of Thunder Bay is not immune to these challenges.  COVID-19 has impacted our operations and our revenue including the MAT tax which was to serve as a source of financing for the indoor turf facility.
“There are also many competing interests for capital dollars including but limited too the conservatory, police station, Fort William Gardens and our Road infrastructure.
“I have been a supporter of the indoor multi-use facility.  Improving people’s recreational opportunities improves there overall health and their quality of life.
“At this time…I am genuinely conflicted with balancing these priorities.
“I am looking forward to reviewing the public input and the corporate report, which will contemplate funding and financing options.
“I will be seriously reflecting on them and all the challenges we face to make my decision.
“I do have some hope that the provincial and federal governments will have to create new infrastructure funding streams that will help kick start the economy post-Covid – I am hopeful we are positioned well to take advantage of those opportunities- possibly the indoor turf facility but others too.”
Several Councillors have expressed that they are seeking input from citizens on this issue.
NetNewsLedger has reached out to Councillors seeking their comments. This piece will be updated going forward to add comments as they come in.