THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO - December 22, 2019 (LSN) Thunder Bay City Council does have a tough job when it comes to making decisions that affect the public welfare that have to balance diverse interests and needs as well as financial and economic criteria. At the same time, they sometimes do not do themselves any favours. Two cases in point come to mind - the soccer bubble on Golf Links Road and Dease Pool.
First, the decision to finally allow a private developer to go ahead with a project to build a soccer bubble on Golf Links Road. According to the news story, the project - which was proposed in spring of 2019 - was intended to open for winter 2020 but zoning restrictions halted the progress. Essentially, the area of the building site was zoned "Prestige Business Park" which meant that a recreational facility could only be built as an auxiliary feature to a "prestige" item like a hotel. This hurdle was finally overcome apparently by allowing the project to proceed with a promise to build the hotel later. No doubt, the City of Thunder Bay probably also has a planning definition of what a prestige hotel should be like and will intervene when it sees fit.
Why this could not have been done sooner is a good question. There is a shortage of space for soccer in the city and having a private developer step up is a good idea. Indeed, why should the City spend scarce resources on a publicly funded indoor turf facility at all if the private sector could provide the services thereby freeing up resources for things the private sector would likely not fund - like a swimming pool in a socio-economically challenged neighborhood? One wonders if the decision to stall the private developer was in part in the hopes they would go away so that there would be less competition for the City run turf facility - once it was finally built. If that is the case, they should move faster - taking years to decide and build the facility while not allowing for an alternate facility is a disservice to those who want their children to play soccer - and are willing to pay the fees for it. The need for the space is all the more urgent given the collapse of the Sports Dome in 2016.
Regarding the decision to close Dease Pool and "repurpose" the space, I have already opined at some length on the issues here in a previous blog post. The final decision is apparently going to be made tomorrow night and the outlook is grim for the people who want a new pool rather than any of the suggested alternative uses given the recommendation is for demolition. Moreover, there is some division in the local community itself given that the survey respondents happy with the alternatives proposed by the City (44%) is greater than those who are unhappy (38%). At the same time, one suspects that those happy with the alternatives are divided four ways while those who are unhappy all want to see a new pool but that nuance will likely escape the decision makers.
By: Livio Di Matteo:
NORTHERN ECONOMIST 2.0
Livio Di Matteo is a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute and Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where he specializes in public policy, health economics, public finance, and economic history. His recent work examines health-care spending and its sustainability. As well, he conducts research on the historical evolution of economic inequality. Di Matteo is a member of the CIHI National Health Expenditure Advisory Panel, the Evidence Network (EvidenceNetwork.ca), and is a contributor to the economics blog, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. He has been listed in Canadian Who’s Who since 1995 and holds a Ph.D. from McMaster University, an M.A. from the University of Western Ontario, and a B.A. from Lakehead University.
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