A failed tourist attraction in Timmins is set to become the gold mine the city always hoped for.

The Shania Twain Centre permanently shut its doors Friday.

International gold miner Goldcorp will officially acquire the property in June. The company plans to demolish the structure to make it part of a massive open-pit gold mine.

City councillors decided several weeks ago the centre was too big a money pit to keep subsidizing.

About $4 million in tax dollars went toward building the failed tourist attraction just 12 years ago.

The centre has racked up more than $1 million in operating deficits in the years since.

How many came?

Attendance figures for the $10-million Shania Twain Centre in Timmins, Ont., which permanently shuts its doors Friday after failing to draw a projected 50,000 tourists a year.

Numbers refer to combined admissions to the Shania Twain exhibits and to the co-located gold mine tour:

  • 2002 — 14,567
  • 2003 — 8,957
  • 2004 — 7,617
  • 2005 — 9,861
  • 2006 — 9,857
  • 2007 — 9,607
  • 2008 — 9,617
  • 2009 — 10,229
  • 2010 — 9,151

Source: PKF Consulting Inc. report May 2011

‘Should have taken a better look at the numbers’

Grant applications to the Ontario and federal governments in the 1990s projected annual attendance of 50,000 tourists by 2005. But the sleek, modern structure, featuring displays of Twain memorabilia — along with gold-mining artifacts — has drawn no more than 15,000 people in any year.

The now-47-year-old singer, who grew up poor in Timmins, got her fledgling start singing in local bars before striking it rich on the world stage in 1995.

In the end, every resident of the century-old mining town of 47,000 was shelling out $7 a year just to keep the lights on. And by 2010, each visitor to the centre was being subsidized to the tune of $33.72.

It was supposed to be the other way around, with the centre generating enough revenue to at least break even — that would require about 33,500 paying visitors annually — while filling local hotels and restaurants with tourists.

"We probably should have taken a better look at the numbers to ensure the expectations could be met," Mayor Tom Laughren said of the planning that happened long before he took office.

mi-shania-twain-centre-300

The Shania Twain Centre was built to celebrate Twain, her successes and her growth from young artist in Timmins to international superstar, according to the centre's website. (shaniatwaincentre.com)

Sold for half of construction costs

A 2011 financial analysis showed that Timmins city council faced continuing operating deficits of at least $233,000 a year, no matter what future business plan it chose, whether expansion or scaling back.

So council last month announced a deal to sell the property to mining firm Goldcorp Inc. for $5 million, just half of the tax dollars spent for construction.

Goldcorp, which will officially acquire the property June 28, plans to demolish the structure to make the gold-seeded land underneath part of a massive open-pit mine being developed adjacent to the town.

Recent media reports have suggested the centre cost as little as $3.7 million to build. But a May 2011 analysis by PKF Consulting Inc. in Toronto says the figure was actually about $10 million for all construction, including the building, site development and upgrades to the co-located gold-mine tour attraction.

The entire 65-acre site is to be razed, including the gold-mine tour facilities, and added to Vancouver-based Goldcorp's planned open pit.

Clearing out the gift shop

For the last week, local residents have been picking over merchandise at the gift shop, offered for up to 75 per cent off, including hockey jerseys emblazoned "STC." The sale was expected to bring in at least $25,000.

The sad end of the once-bright hopes for the centre began last May, when Twain's management company repatriated most of her memorabilia — including an entire tour bus — to Las Vegas, where the singer now has a regular show.

The city dropped the $9 adult admission fee to the Twain exhibits last summer, in recognition that only few items were left to see, including four dresses.

Municipal officials said Shania Twain and her management company, Maple Leaf Productions, were highly supportive of the centre over the years, and they lay no blame at her feet.

Instead, the city's tourism manager says passion trumped reason when planning took place in the late 1990s, with provincial and federal funding agencies buying in.

Lack of local support

"The projections were extremely ambitious," said Guy Lamarche of discussions that happened before his time in the job.

"When people come forward to support projects, and bring a huge passion to projects, sometimes things get skewed. And, in this case, the projections never materialized — they were way off."

Mayor Laughren cites a series of problems for the failure of the centre, but calls the lack of local support by Timmins citizens a big factor.

Lamarche put it this way:

"The old adage 'build it and they will come'? Forget it. If you build it, you better be prepared to market it."

The city plans to place remaining Twain memorabilia and mining artifacts on display around the community, including the airport, library and even street corners.

Claims on sale proceeds

But the fate of the $5 million in proceeds from the coming property sale is not yet clear. The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., a provincial agency, paid $5 million into the construction project under an agreement with the city that runs until March 31, 2018.

The NOHFC gave prior written permission for the sale to Goldcorp "with conditions relating to the earnings from the sale," said Julia Bennett, spokeswoman for Ontario's Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

She did not spell out the conditions, but said "negotiations are underway to determine the next steps to get the best use of taxpayer dollars for growth in the north."

FedNor, the federal investment fund for Northern Ontario, provided $500,000 for the construction in a contribution agreement that expired in 2002. A spokesman said the agency has no claim on the sale proceeds.

With files from the Canadian Press