THUNDER BAY – When is the last time you attended an event at Fort William Gardens? Over the past weeks, to listen to those who feel that our city is lacking a place for sporting events, you would think that the Gardens would be sold out for all the local hockey games. Especially this season with the professional hockey players locked out.
The reality is pretty simple and the empty seats are a solid indication that maybe enthusiasm for something new maybe over-riding Thunder Bay’s real needs.
For the very entertaining Lakehead University Thunderwolves action, there can often be between 2700 to 3200 fans at the games. For the Thunder Bay North Stars, the turnout is far fewer people. Consider that the cost for this amazing hockey is very affordable, the fact that there are not more fans in the seats is speaking volumes. Or perhaps it should be doing just that.
Now, would it be a great idea for Thunder Bay to have a new event centre? Certainly. The Gardens is aging, and it is certainly not the world class facility that it was back thirty some years ago.
The City of Thunder Bay has brought in a team of excellent consultants who have determined some incredible designs, and likely selected the right location for the proposed event centre. It would be hard to argue with their expertise.
The real questions we should be asking are can we honestly afford it? Can we make due for the next few years and bring some of the other priorities in our community to the forefront?
Our aging population is facing ever increasing tax bills, and for many staying in their homes is becoming an issue. Should we be focusing on our seniors?
We also face issues that even though there is a world class facility for healthcare at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre the hospital is far too often in gridlock. Would an investment of $100 million dollars in our healthcare infrastructure make more sense?
There is the argument that we need a new convention centre, and that is a valid point. If the goal is a convention centre, that is geared toward the visitors usually driving or flying into the community. If you have been to cities that host conventions – like Las Vegas, the goal is getting people from the airport to the hotels, and then the convention centre. The downtown northward location might be excellent for concerts, and hockey games but maybe being a $40 cab ride from the airport, the Victoria Inn, Valhalla Inn, and Airline near the airport that could house the visitors to a larger convention should be factored into the process.
Another point being made is that we need a new and better facility for hockey. The goal being bringing in an OHL team. Perhaps what we should be considering is that in a community of 110,000 people there are only so many dollars out there. Likely if there were two major teams playing in the city, those sponsor and advertising dollars would be divided. Both teams might end up struggling.
If there is a bigger professional sports team that wants to locate in Thunder Bay, then great, lets be all for it. Let Thunder Bay welcome them with open arms, and assist their new business with incentives as THEY build their new arena.
We should be looking at the long term in our planning in our city. Part of that process must be toward focusing on the solid needs that we have in our city. Ask yourself is a new event centre the item at the top of the list of those priorities?
There has been a lot of debate over the location of the Event Centre. The first question however that residents will have is ‘Can we afford it?”.
For those clamoring for a referendum on the location of the proposed event centre, that is coming. The next civic election in Thunder Bay will be in October 2014 – likely long before the ground is broken on any new building. If you are not happy with the direction that the city is headed, you have two years to start finding the support, the team and the candidates to sit on the next council. That process is what the ‘real’ referendum will be.
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Background: (From the City of Thunder Bay website)
The consulting team, using a broad-based Site Evaluation Matrix, is recommending the Downtown/Waterfront site because it offers the greatest short- and long-term benefits. A flexible, multipurpose facility is recommended that will include both spectator and conference components including 5,700 seats and a 50,000 square foot conference centre with major meeting rooms and a banquet hall for up to 1,000. Based on the Phase 2 Feasibility Study, the proposed Event Centre will have significant one-time and ongoing direct economic benefits to the City. The corporate report recommends moving forward with an initial Request for Expressions of Interest related to private sector interest in the project.