Thunder Bay needs a win.
And the timing couldn’t be better for something positive to come to the city. This week Mayor Hobbs learned there won’t be any federal support for the proposed $114-million event and convention centre. This latest blow to the prospects of 5,700-seat facility came from Liberal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
This setback hasn’t deterred Mayor Hobbs who vows to continue fighting for the event centre. However, it adds to the pressure on the city to deliver a win with another sports-related initiative — the 2017 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.
Right now the city is waiting to hear back from the province on whether or not they will chip in to help cover of the cost of bringing Port Arthur Stadium and Baseball Central up to higher standards.
Earlier this month, council received a report that an additional $2 million worth of work is needed to meet the MLB Winter League Standards. The province is expected to pitch in a much larger amount than the federal government, which is why the city is counting on it.
Even with that cash coming in, Thunder Bay will still be covering more than $722,000.
The work includes reconstruction of the main field at Baseball Central with new drainage and irrigation, larger bullpens, new turf and a clay infield, which includes the pitching mound and new padding. Port Arthur Stadium would also see a new pitching mound and bullpen in addition to rebuilding the infield.
This isn’t the first time Thunder Bay had a major baseball event. Back in 2010, the World Junior Baseball Championships saw teams from around the world come to Thunder Bay to play ball. Thousands watched some world-class baseball as our hometown showed an international audience that this Northern Ontario city could be known for more than just hockey and skiing.
While it’s not too clear at the moment why the standards changed so much in six years, administration told council that if they aren’t able to secure higher levels of government funding then the World Baseball Softball Confederation should be notified that Thunder Bay won’t be able to host the tournament.
That news at this stage of the game would be a real hit to Thunder Bay’s reputation when it comes to bidding for sporting events. Think about it, all any other municipality has to say is that they won’t back out at the last minute like Thunder Bay did. It would be a blow that scars the city’s reputation for years and resulting in us missing out on so many opportunities.
Obviously, we shouldn’t be in this situation just 13 months before the event. Thunder Bay won the bid in February 2014. Organizers should have known then what was needed to be done and — more importantly — how it was going to get done. It’s not a victory if you win a bid that you can’t ultimately fulfill. However, this is not the time to point fingers on how we got here.
All parties need to step up now to chart a clear path on how they will make sure this event is not lost. The province has to give a committment and local organizers have to figure out the rest of the funding as well as the logistics of getting the work done on time.
The greatest value in events like this is that they build the reputation of our city, our province and our country. That’s why this win is so important right now because losing the world juniors means losing out on so much more.