Mark Bentz: To build now or not to build now, that is the question

City Hall
City Hall

THUNDER BAY – OP-ED – To build now or not to build now, that is the question.  Well, at least that is the question that will be facing City Council the evening of August 24 regarding the proposed Multi-use Indoor Turf Facility.  On August 10, when Council was advised by Administration to delay the project for up to 15 months so that they could better understand the financial risks due to the current pandemic, Council voted 9 to 4 to reject this advice and proceed with the construction of the $42 million facility, even in the absence of provincial and federal funding for the project.  As this decision will be re-voted on August 24, I wanted to share a proposal with the community that will allow further due diligence to occur, as recommended by Administration, while still allowing the project to move forward with minimal delay for Councillors who want to move this project forward immediately.

The referral that was put forward by Administration on August 10 stated that:  “Administration report back to Council on or before November 2021 in respect of the City’s financial position, confirmation of the sources of financing for the project including any funding from other levels of government to support the advancement of the project”.  I believe that many on Council viewed this referral as a direct threat to the project itself, likely due to the potential delay of up to 15 months.  What I will be proposing on August 24 will be an amendment to the referral date-changing it from November 2021 to November 30, 2020, allowing for further due diligence to occur while only delaying the project by 90 days.

The 90 days will allow time for the following critical information to be determined prior to tendering:

  1. Administration will more accurately understand the pandemic’s impact on the City’s 2021 Budget
  2. Council will know if a second wave of the pandemic materializes this Fall resulting in further lockdown
  3. Council will more accurately understand the economic fallout and unemployment due to the pandemic as CEWS and CERB programs end over the next 90 days.
  4. Council will have time to review the Program Services Review to determine strategic directions for 2021 Budget
  5. Administration will have time to hear from funding partners regarding our current applications and to seek new funding programs

A critical aspect of controlling costs on large projects involves proper risk assessment and risk management.  I believe that more information is needed to properly assess our risk in proceeding with tendering a project of this magnitude during this pandemic and the resulting economic recession.  My sense is that the community wants to pull back and properly assess all risks prior to tendering this project.  The amendment that I am proposing protects the financial interests of the community in these times of economic uncertainty while imposing a minimal delay in construction.

I encourage all citizens, both for and against the above amendment to reach out to Council via email, phone or by giving a deputation at the August 24 meeting to express your thoughts on this important decision.  Democracy works best when all voices are heard.

Thank you,

Mark Bentz, Councillor At-Large