Paul Sloan – Discusses Thunder Bay Event Centre

Thunder Bay City Hall and the plaza are in great shape in downtown Fort William
Thunder Bay City Hall
Thunder Bay City Hall and the plaza are in great shape in downtown Fort William
Thunder Bay City Hall

THUNDER BAY – CIVIC POLITICS – I attended the Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay DaVinci Centre meeting on Tuesday April 1, 2014 to hear directly from the source what the anti-event centre, pro-plebiscite lobby group wanted for the city. I was one of four people at the meeting to be counted in support of the event centre. I had prepared to speak on the downtown waterfront event centre’s potential economic benefits and the viability of the AHL in Thunder Bay. But as I observed the mannerism of the attending citizens and listened to their initial questions of Ray Smith’s opening speech, I realized that my topic would be ineffective in swaying their opinion. They are no longer buying the economic development being sold to them; a more relevant message is needed to change their position.

To be sure, the Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay has some hard-core individuals whose derision of the event centre will not be swayed by talk or thought. The pro-event centre supporters, I am sure, can counter with some (more?) of their own fan(atic)s.

Many members of the lobby group are of the “we want Innova Park so let’s use every means at our disposal to delay the project and get what we want” crowd. Marketing the intertwined complexities of urban planning, socio-economics and finance will likely glaze their eyes many times before they may, eventually, change their mind. Wise instruction has only a small chance of soothing the Innova supporter.

The growing bulk of the group are citizens concerned that their assets and standard of living will be hurt by the financing and potential economic failure of the event centre. They are risk adverse—they will not risk what they have for a likely gain if there is a slight chance of losing their stake. They have spent their lives accumulating their home, investments, savings and inheritance—there is nothing more important to them. They will see little or no positive impact on their personal finances from this event centre.

They are right to be concerned, especially if near, or in, retirement because they will have little chance to recover from any personal financial loss. These citizens want guarantees, and there are no guarantees, except death and taxes, and these days you have to pay a tax before you get death. These citizens must be convinced of the safety of the taxes being spent, that the city will only pay a portion of the full cost of the event centre construction, that the city’s share of construction costs is from the Renew Thunder Bay Fund funded by the current level of municipal tax and that the Fund is not intended for general municipal spending, that the event centre will not cause increased municipal tax, that the losses will be covered in some manner other than an increase in their municipal tax if the advertised events and conventions do not occur.

Arenas and event centres are not themselves profitable, which is why private investment won’t usually build them, but they are good for the social and indirect economic development of a community. The private sector has a limited amount of money to invest and its goal of maximizing the annual rate of return is at odds with community buildings providing a shell for the specialized activity that creates economic spinoff in a city.

Taxes can be fairly spent when creating a product or service that provides a public benefit which is inadequately provided by the private sector. Twenty-some million dollars is already saved of the municipality’s share of $30–40 million towards the event centre. The remaining cost will come from the current level of municipal tax and the provincial and federal government. There should be no increase in municipal taxes for having built the event centre. There will be future municipal tax increases, regardless of an event centre, because of the rate of inflation, increased real cost of service delivery, and a greater proportion of the variable cost of service being paid by the user, i.e. user-pay.

The municipal government and event centre supporters need to better market the mundane accounting and analysis of the project’s financial risk to a significant segment of the population, rather than the exciting potential economic and leisure opportunities, unlikely to be seen by many of this city’s citizens. Acknowledge citizens’ legitimate financial fear and speak truthfully to gain their support for the marina event centre. The community will be better for the effort.

Today’s opponent is tomorrow’s ally to build this city. I will try to change the opinion of the “dude talking about the Magna Carta”, James S. McConnell.

Paul Sloan, Red River Ward councillor candidate

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