Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay city administration recommends delaying turf sports facility vote until 2021

Thunder Bay city administration is changing its stance on the proposed multi-use turf sports facility, and is now recommending council delay the vote more than a year due to financial uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vote to put $33 million-project out for tender originally scheduled for Monday

Thunder Bay city administration is recommending council delay a vote on whether to put a proposed turf sports facility out for tender until November 2021. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Thunder Bay city administration is changing its stance on the proposed multi-use turf sports facility, and is now recommending council delay the vote more than a year due to financial uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council was originally scheduled to vote on whether to put the $33-million facility out for tender at Monday's meeting.

However, a memo issued Aug. 4 recommends delaying that vote until November 2021.

The memo, sent from city manager Norm Gale to the Multi-Use Indoor Sports Facility Committee, states the new recommendation is due to "new and emerging information that has been gleaned in the past few weeks."

The new information, the memo reads, includes a forecasted $7-million shortfall in the city's tax-supported budget, brought on by the reopening of city facilities up to July 13.

The shortfall doesn't take into account the reopening of facilities beyond that date, the memo states; the memo states revenue losses and additional costs will "continue to be evident for fall 2020 and into 2021 and potentially 2022."

In addition, the memo states that there has been no confirmation of any external funding for the turf facility project.

And while the city has applied for COVID-19 relief funding, Kelly Robertson, Thunder Bay's general manager of community services, said Friday the city is still waiting on responses to those applications.

If approved, the funding would relieve financial pressure on the city, she said.

"There's all these announcements about relief for municipalities for various services that we provide, but no specifics yet," Robertson said. "We don't have any idea what the process will be to try to access that relief, if we are indeed eligible, or what kind of relief that's going to offer the taxpayers of the City of Thunder Bay."

The recommendation to refer the decision on tendering the turf facility is not based on the merits of the project; Gale writes in the memo the project, in his view, "is well conceived."

However, administration recommends the project be put off until council receives additional information about COVID-19 financial relief from other orders of government.

If council agrees to delay the vote until November 2021, the new timeline would see the turf sports facility open in late 2023, the memo states.

Robertson said delaying the project would increase the cost, due to inflation.

However, she said that may be offset somewhat by not building the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The example there might be that we get started on the project, it's shut down because there's an outbreak, [and] that delays the project," she said. "You could have supply chain issues."

"Does that make sense to delay, and not try to construct in the middle of a pandemic, because you're going to avoid those extra costs?"

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