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Soccer Northwest pitches alternative turf sports facility plan

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Soccer Northwest Ontario (SNO) is taking another kick at a proposed indoor turf sports facility.

The organization has developed a new proposal, which would see a hangar-type facility built next to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium and Canada Games Complex.

SNO president Michael Veneziale said the group looked back at previous attempts to build a turf sports facility, and tried to address the sticking points in the new plan.

City council has voted in favor of a turf sports facility, and had even chosen a site at Chapples Park.

However, in July, councilors voted to hold off on advancing the project, which essentially transferred any further decisions to the new council, members of which will be officially sworn in later this month.

As for the facility itself, Veneziale said SNO’s design as proposed is coming in at less than $20 million, about half the cost of the current city proposal.

Soccer Northwest Ontario has completed its own proposal for a new turf sports facility, which would include one large field that can be divided into smaller fields as needed. (Soccer Northwest Ontario/Provided)

“The facility itself, the biggest major difference is the layout of the fields,” Veneziale said. “We’ve found, obviously, that the width of the building is the most expensive portion.”

“So we decided to change the field layout itself,” he said. “The field sizes themselves are actually slightly bigger than was previously provided by the city, but a more rectangular shape for the building is what’s going to be the most cost-effective.”

The building, Veneziale said, would include one large turf field that could be divided into smaller fields. It would also feature seating, office and storage space, a pro shop, washrooms and changing rooms, a party room, and overhead doors so it could also be used to host trade shows.

In addition, the building would be constructed on a site currently occupied by a baseball field on the north end of the city. Veneziale said the building would not take up the entire space, so about 200 more parking spaces could be created.

“We’ve heard a very positive response,” he said of the proposal. “We have letters of support from not only the user groups, but several organizations outside of it as well.”

Veneziale said they tried to address issues raised previously with proposals for a turf facility “like the overall price and the location.”

The need for such a facility has been discussed for years. Veneziale has repeatedly talked about the lack of space for indoor sports, such as soccer, in the winter months.

The facility, if approved by council, would be built next to the Canada Games Complex, and Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. (Soccer Northwest Ontario/Provided)

SNO has taken to booking times at the Lakehead University hangar when they’re available; but students have priority there, so the times are limited.

The indoor soccer leagues have also been using a rink at the Thunder Bay Tournament Center.

However, Veneziale said, there isn’t enough space to accommodate everyone.

“I believe we’ve turned away, just with the soccer community itself, about 2,000 people,” he said. “There’s one team, for example, in the women’s league that only has one time in the whole month of December.”

“Sometimes there’s only two games a month,” Veneziale said. “We are trying to make it as available to as many people as possible, but in doing that we have to drastically reduce the amount of times and games that are played.”

“So, for example, some of the leagues … instead of having their typical 22 game season, they have 10 games in the entire season.”

SNO is scheduled to present the plan to the council in a deputation on Dec. 12.

When asked about the proposal, mayor-elect Ken Boshcoff said he sees merit in the idea.

“I’m very supportive of young people being able to play affordable sports,” Boshcoff said. “I’m very supportive of facilities that come in under … $20 million, and I believe putting them where there’s adequate parking and a central facility that has bus service means that we are making it accessible for everyone.”

Current River Councilor-elect Andrew Foulds is also in favor of a turf facility, and noted that the city has earmarked about $17 million for the project already.

“Certainly one of the things that I heard on the campaign trail was that there were certainly those who were absolutely against this,” he said. “I certainly heard a body of people that were absolutely for it.”

“But I actually heard from a good number of people who were supporters of it, but thought that perhaps whatever was going to be built should be a little bit more modest.”

Foulds said he’s hopeful that the SNO plan will be the “compromise that everyone is looking for.”

City report in January

Meanwhile, the city administration is still working on its own plan and recommendations for a turf sports facility.

City manager Norm Gale said that it is due to be presented to councilors in January.

“That report will contain recommendations and other information, and we will proceed accordingly once council makes that determination, notwithstanding any deputation made by Soccer Northwest Ontario, or the points of view of any other stakeholders, which we will of course consider as we move along .”

No details of the administration report are available yet.

“The most important thing to remember is that the council can do what the council wishes to do,” Gale said. “They could simply fund a stakeholder to provide the facility if they chose to do that.”

“So the range is wide open,” he said. “It depends on what the council wishes to do, which is why the report in January is very important, and why decisions being made and direction being provided by the council are very important.”

“And today it’s early for me to speculate on what that might be.”

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