Does the Thunder Bay Convention and Event Centre Make Sense?
THUNDER BAY – One of the top issues for many during the Thunder Bay Civic election is the Thunder Bay Convention and Event Centre. The Event Centre project has dominated much of the civic election discussion.
It is an issue that has strong supporters, and equally strong opponents. The total cost of the project has climbed to just over $100 million. The City of Thunder Bay has been studying the project, working with consultants, and engaging with the public throughout the process.
The real issue might be the long-term positive economic impact of the project. The potential for economic spin off from the facility has raised questions on the impact on local facilities already in place.
So, what is that potential?
The new facility is designed to attract in larger conventions. Right now in the city there is a restriction in terms of capacity. The city cannot hold mid-to medium sized conventions as there are no facilities large enough.
Thunder Bay Manager of Tourism Paul Pepe says that “Right now we can only handle up to about 550 delegate conventions comfortably. We do receive inquires annually for larger events but cannot even bid on them due to their size requirements”.
Without a venue capable of handling larger events, Pepe states, “We don’t actively pursue this market at all at the moment. While we would not anticipate a lot of immediate business in this segment, we anticipate 2-3 a year while awareness in the planning industry builds”.
“There are peak convention/corporate periods throughout the year where it can be difficult for planners to find multi-room meeting space, even for smaller delegate sizes,” adds Pepe. “We hear this from planners directly that they can’t find the spaces they need when they require it. This project adds additional capacity”.
Pepe states that “Conventions are trending towards multi use spaces, with things like expos being added on, which take a lot of room that does not currently exist”.
Can Thunder Bay be a Convention Destination?
“Our advantages in being able to host larger events is good national air carrier connectivity east and west, new and refreshed hotel accommodation inventory and average accommodation rates below the average found in larger centers,” Pepe comments. “The success of the center is based on having a good product to offer and effective and aggressive marketing partnerships targeting Canada’s convention planning markets in the mining, forestry, manufacturing, health sciences, education, First Nation, public sector and non government organization segments primarily”.
Sports Tourism – Sporting Events
“We are currently ineligible to bid on many national or international hockey, curling and skate events,” comments Pepe. “A centre with the enhanced spectator capacity, performer facilities and broadcast friendly infrastructure improves our bid chances across a wider spectrum of sport events”.
Pepe adds, for “Entertainment Events, a larger indoor venue attracting a larger range of touring acts does bring in people from Northwest Ontario and Northern Minnesota – usually 10-15% of audiences are from outside the city for events. These are short haul visitors who are highly likely to spend money in restaurants and retail and will build their evening event into an overnight experience”.
The occupancy rate for most major hotels in the city is fairly high. It is likely that there will be need for more hotel rooms in the city to cater to potential convention guests.
In the area of the proposed event centre, there is the Prince Arthur Hotel, and the new hotel being built at the Waterfront.
Conventions with 800 delegates from out of the city would likely require up to 500 rooms or more. Right now there is a likely shortfall.
There is a concern in the community from some that the proposed Event Centre will impact the existing businesses already offering convention and meeting space. The Da Vinci Centre, Italian Cultural Centre, Valhalla Inn, Victoria Inn, and other businesses have not yet expressed their concerns in public.
The need to replace the aging Fort William Gardens is obvious, and the fact of the matter is almost everyone who offers a view on the proposed Event and Convention Centre is looking at what they feel is best for our community.
For some, the issue is cut and dried, a yes or a no answer only.
There is still lots of time to be asking important questions. Asking questions and discussing the proposed investment of as much as $42 million tax dollars in Thunder Bay should be encouraged. Once all the answers are out there, we can see our community more united and move forward.