Thunder Bay

Powerplay: The battle for an arena in Thunder Bay

It's the comparison most often made by people from Thunder Bay when it comes to an arena or waterfront development: why is Thunder Bay not more like its sister city of Duluth, Minnesota?

Powerplay: Is Thunder Bay missing out when it comes to an arena and convention centre?

The DECC as seen from Canal Park in Duluth. In the foreground is the Haborside Convention Centre. Just behind that is the old DECC arena, as well as the AMSOIL arena and adjoining convention centre. The entire complex has about a million square feet. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

It's the comparison most often made by people from Thunder Bay when it comes to an arena or waterfront development: why is Thunder Bay not more like its sister city of Duluth, Minnesota?

The two cities are both considered to be 'northern' in their own ways, both sit on the shore of Lake Superior, and have a similar population, albeit Duluth has a much larger population surrounding it than in Thunder Bay.

CBC Thunder Bay will explore this week what Duluth offers for an arena and convention centre, as well as its waterfront, and why Thunder Bay has not developed in the same vein.

We're calling this series Powerplay.
The AMSOIL arena in Duluth, MN is an integral part of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Centre. The arena, built in 2010, is home to the UMD Bulldogs. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

The debate that is currently underway in Thunder Bay is very similar to what was seen in Duluth about 15 years ago.

The location, cost and economic benefit to the community were certainly top of mind, much like it is in Thunder Bay. Even the Duluth Curling Club is part of the DECC, or the Duluth Entertaiment and Convention Centre, similar to the Fort William Gardens.

The DECC has proven itself to be a successful, independent business, said Dan Russell, the CEO of the DECC.

One of the reasons for the success is everything is done in-house.
Dan Russell is the CEO of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Centre (DECC). He led the organisation through the construction of the AMSOIL arena. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"Our own catering, exhibit services, parking, concessions, and because it's all connected, I think it's very cost effective to run. Basically, we are fairly profitable, but everything goes into replacing roofs and elevators and everything else. When you have close to a million square feet, that's always a challenge to ensure it's modern, renovated, and a source of pride for the community."

The DECC itself is much more than an arena and convention centre.

It's a huge facility, with over a million square feet of space. It's a true multipurpose facility, with the AMSOIL arena, the old DECC arena, Symphony Hall, two convention centres, Pioneer Hall which includes the Duluth Curling Club, as well as Bayfront Festival Park, a movie theatre and the William Irvin ore boat experience.

Is an event centre worthwhile?

"I would say you would never regret it," said Anna Tanski, the CEO of Visit Duluth. "And, it is a tremendous challenge to keep a building and facilty occupied. However, the benefits really outweigh any challenges tenfold."

Tanski said the DECC is a major component to tourism in Duluth. She said it attracts leisure tourists, such as those attending hockey games or concerts, but also draws in thousands of people every year who have conventions at the DECC.
Anna Tanski is the CEO of Visit Duluth. She says Thunder Bay would "never regret" building an event centre. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

She said that meetings and conventions make up about 15 percent of the tourism market, worth millions of dollars per year.

Tanski said that business tourism also takes place during the week, helping fill hotel rooms and pack restaurants during the week.

She said if visitors have a good experience while visiting the city on business, they are more likely to return with their families.

"It's a crown jewel in our community."

Powerplay will continue all week on Superior Morning and at


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