A More Modest Proposal for the Turf Centre

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A More Modest Proposal for the Turf Centre

THUNDER BAY – NEWS – A final decision on whether to move forward with a turf facility having a total cost estimate of $53 million is scheduled to take place on June 3 at City Council.  Given that many in the community would like to see a facility built but for much less than $53 million, I would like to elaborate on a more modest proposal that may have considerable financial benefits for the City.  This is not something new, I have consistently advocated for a lower cost solution that incorporates partnerships to lessen the tax burden from the start of this process.  As these objectives have not been achieved, I believe more work needs to be done.

The $53 million cost is comprised of $38 million for the structure, $5.5 million for site work and $9.7 million in interest costs.  An air supported structure can be built for less than half of this cost.  For anyone doubting the feasibility of an air supported structure, just look to North Bay which is currently building an 85,000 sq. ft. facility for under $10 million that includes significant provincial funding.  While there are some disadvantages to an air supported structure, there could be significant cost benefits to using this type of structure to meet our current needs.

First and foremost, with a cost on the order of only $20 million, upfront savings of $30 million will be realized and can be used for other infrastructure needs.  An air supported structure would eliminate the need for the City to borrow money to construct the facility lowering our debt financing costs while improving the City’s financial position.  Lastly, and most importantly, a lower cost facility could “open the door” to attracting private sector partnerships as a lower upfront cost makes it possible for the facility to make money rather than lose money.  Partnerships, like the one we have with the Tennis Centre, currently embarking on the construction of an air supported structure for indoor tennis, would make it unnecessary for the City to operate, staff and provide 100% of the capital to construct the facility.

I believe that partnerships are a critical path forward for municipalities that are interest in keeping costs down and engaging the community for optimal solutions.  The fact that the current proposal lacks partnerships and has zero dollars in upper-level funding or fund-raising is not where I believe the community wanted to be after all the time and money spent to get here.  We find ourselves with essentially the same plan that we had three years ago that failed to garner widespread public support.

A change in direction is still possible if this approach makes sense to the community and it should not delay the opening of such a venue by too great an extent due to its simplicity and relatively quick construction timelines.  I welcome all citizens to reach out to Councillors prior to June 3 to express your views, whether they be for or against the current plan, so that all points of view are heard before a final decision is made.

Mark Bentz

Councillor at Large

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