Thunder Bay·Video

'Once we have it, they will come': Thunder Bay council says new soccer complex a priority

City councillors in Thunder Bay, Ont., say a proposed indoor complex at Chapples Park for soccer and other turf sports is a priority, as local leagues continue to make do without a proper facility.

Proposed Chapples Park facility to house FIFA-regulation pitch, seat 1,000

Proponents of all ages for a new indoor soccer facility in Thunder Bay, Ont., gathered outside city hall prior to Monday's council meeting, where councillors heard the latest plans for a new complex proposed for Chapples Park. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

City councillors in Thunder Bay, Ont., say a proposed indoor complex at Chapples Park for soccer and other turf sports is a priority, as local leagues continue to make do without a proper facility.

At Monday's meeting, city council voted unanimously to designate, in principle, the Chapples Park Soccer Centre project as a priority and to direct administration to report back by the end of January on how much the city can expect to spend and to identify other sources of funding.

"We have seven arenas for hockey — and I have nothing against hockey — we have no indoor facilities for soccer and all the other sports," said Coun. Aldo Ruberto. "Why shouldn't we build the best facility possible?"

Monday's decision by council will also require city staff to present a more detailed report on the facility at a later date, still to be determined.

The proposed complex, which ties into ongoing planning work the city is doing for the revitalization of Chapples Park — a large greenspace on the city's south side — has been top-of-mind for proponents of soccer and other sports that require indoor facilitiesbecause of the region's inclement winter weather.

The necessity was heightened by the collapse of the sports dome in 2016.
Tony Colistro is a long-time soccer coach and administrator in Thunder Bay. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Soccer Northwest Ontario — the organization spearheading efforts to secure a new facility — and Stantec, the project's design and engineering consultants, briefed council on their proposed design and business case at Monday's meeting.

The $25 million facility would house a FIFA-regulation pitch that could be divided into smaller fields as needed, seat close to 1,000 people and could also serve as a host for trade shows in the city. A proposed weekly schedule showed that soccer would be the main tenant, but other sports like ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse and football would also have access.

The complex — which would also be within the vicinity of nine outdoor pitches on the Chapples Park property — would sit just north of the existing Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre.

"This facility, right now, is for our user group, it's a need for the people in Thunder Bay, that's first and foremost," Tony Colistro, a longtime soccer coach and administrator in Thunder Bay told councillors.  "We are very confident that once we have it, they will come."
Many in Thunder Bay's soccer community argue that the sport needs a dedicated indoor space, especially for the winter months. With the collapse of the Sports Dome in 2016, many leagues have had to find space in facilities like school gymnasiums. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Colistro also spoke to how a modern facility would make the city a destination for large-scale tournaments, which could bring people, and dollars, into the city. It received letters of support from a number of local organizations, including the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and EcoSuperior.

The proposed business case would see the city own and insure the facility and Soccer Northwest Ontario operate it. Details surrounding management agreements and how the financial risk would be shared still has to be negotiated, according to the consultants.

Financial estimates peg the complex operating at a small loss for the first two years, then breaking even or turning a small profit by year-three.

A suggested timeline showed construction being completed by Oct., 2019 if there are no hiccups in getting the necessary approvals and funding, but some councillors questioned that "ambitious" and "aggressive" plan, in light of looming deadlines for applications for provincial and federal funding, as well as the 2018 provincial election.

'They lose interest over the winter'

Prior to Monday's council meeting, about 50 people from Thunder Bay's soccer community gathered in front of city hall, holding signs and speaking with councillors as they entered. Groups of kids kicked soccer balls around McGillivray Square.

Many spoke about how a dedicated soccer complex would help the sport in the Lakehead, and pointed to cities like Winnipeg that have modern facilities and can host tournaments.

"I think it would mean a lot for the people who are playing right now but also other people who want to play," said Kieran Ezzard, 19, who has been playing in the city since 2010. "You see it in the summertime when we have proper facilities, we have fields galore, and you see new kids come and play but then they lose interest over the winter because they play once-a-week."

"We struggle with numbers during the winter and you can see that a lot."
Tracey Miceli is a long-time player in competitive women's leagues in the city; she also has two sons who play the sport. She says the past couple years have been difficult for the game in Thunder Bay. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

"It's been tough," said longtime women's league player Tracey Miceli of trying to stay with the sport over the past couple of years. "When the [sports] dome went down, the women's league found some ... space in school gyms, I elected not to play at that point."

Miceli said the push for a new facility has brought many in the local soccer community together.

"It's been a good opportunity to come together and fight for something that maybe we should have been fighting for a long time ago," she said.

"We just kind of worked with what we had at the time and when [conditions] got as bad as they have, now we're coming together to try to get something."

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