Event Centre: a Good Idea, Many Unanswered Questions

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Aerial view of proposed Waterfront Event Centre
Aerial view of proposed Waterfront Event Centre
Proposed Thunder Bay Event Centre or Convention Centre as proposed by BBB Architects
Proposed Thunder Bay Event Centre or Convention Centre as proposed by BBB Architects

THUNDER BAY – ANALYSIS – With City Council approval of the extra $1 million for the Event Centre, the way seems to be paved for completion of Phase III report to be brought back in August and a complete application (shovel ready) being submitted to Provincial and Federal funding agencies in September. The expectation is that by spring of 2015, the City should hear back and if the funding from other orders of government is in place, construction would begin in 2015.

Is this a done deal then?

It would appear so, but while the request for the extra $1 million prompted City Council to ask many pertinent questions, there are still many unanswered ones that hopefully can be addressed before the Phase III report comes back in the fall. After all, if we are going to build it let’s do it right by reducing the risk to the taxpayers while maximizing the opportunity for positive results that such an investment can create.

An Entertainment and Conference Centre should help unite the City, not divide it.

Those who are surprised at the opposition and call those people naysayers do not help. After all, if we believe in the axiom that there are no stupid questions but only stupid answers, we would be more inclined to appreciate the concerns and try to address them.

Remember that while we need cheerleaders, it is the team that wins the game.

The city has done a pretty good job of hosting open houses, and making presentations to the public, but it is only recently that the potential negative impact on other organizations like the Community Auditorium, Fort William Historical Park, hotels, and others are even being discussed.

In fact, there is little such analysis in both Phase I and II feasibility studies. There is a lot on the positive economic impact that such Centre would bring to the City, but it has to be a net positive or we will end up with a situation like the Casino where new wages and other services do not compensate for the loss of revenue to the community when such revenue is being contributed mostly by local patrons thereby cannibalizing the local economy.

What can Council and Administration do to alleviate some of these concerns? For starters, ask the consultants to prepare optimistic, pessimistic and realistic financial scenarios. Validate and triangulate all financial projections including the percentage of people willing to pay over $20 to attend an AHL game. The survey done by Lakehead University showed that most people would not be willing to pay more than this amount. If this is the case, the team will not survive long.

Parking remains an issue and having paid a consultant to tell us that we needed a parkade due to lack of suitable parking, and then eliminating the parkade to come in under $100 million does not help, especially when now we are going to pay another consultant to find us more parking which we knew we did not have in the first place.

These issues and the fact that Council was asked for an additional $1 million at the last minute does not do much for the optics.

Frank Pullia
Frank Pullia

I believe that solutions can be found and to their credit Council and Administration are starting to give more attention to critical issues like a guaranteed-build maximum price and validating the amount of subsidy required which should include interest on the money that the city needs to borrow to top up our share of the $33 million required from each order of government since the Renew Fund is now down to $20 million.

If we want to move forward as a city we need positive planned progress.

The “we build it and they will come” proposition does not cut it any longer as taxpayers expect a new level of accountability and transparency from their elected officials.

Frank Pullia is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), MBA and a community activist. He served on City Council for 7 years. Questions and feedback are welcome and he can be reached at 767-6579 or at frank@frankpullia.com

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