When Innova would have worked

This past Monday council decided to end the furious location debate by siding with the consultants and putting the event center downtown. There was furious debate in the media, in public and in social media as too why people believe that they were right and it should go in their spot. When the consultants picked the downtown site it wasn’t a shock for many but still went against the thinking of some supporters in our city. Even if the city had not have picked the downtown site I believe that there are other factors much larger then Thunder Bay the needs to be examined. In the Northern Growth plan the province stated that if the city wanted to receive a larger amount of funding for projects then they would need to put it in the downtown cores. The province has been trying to stifle the massive amount of urban sprawl which has been occurring in cities across the province. The city’s own master plan designates the downtown core as the entertainment district which was an important point for the consultants when choosing a location. The most important point which may play on future decisions by the city and the province is the shift where people live. The past 40 years we have seen a massive number of people leave for big homes/ lawn and move out to the country to like semi-rural or the outskirts of town. Urban sprawl was a huge thing and believed to originally be a huge boom to the cities who were experiencing it. Now it is considered a major problem and known that it is a major draw on resources. There is now a shift to downtown living and living in spaces that out parents might consider a closet. Toronto is a perfect example of people willing to live on top of each other for the downtown experience. Toronto is experiencing one of the biggest condo booms in its history, they are building more then other cities like Chicago and New York. A massive number of people are now living downtown and more are coming compared to just 15 years ago where people were leaving.

So when would Innova have worked?

Apparently the area around Innova was being considered by another study done in the 90’s as a possible central location for the new multiplex but it was never done. The Innova site would have been a good site if the gas prices has continued to stay at a reasonable level where people were able to drive without care. Up until 1973 there was only a slow stable increase in the price of gas which allowed more people to budget for increases and be able to hand it. In the US a gallon of gas didn’t increase over 0.50 cents until 1974 which was a 60 year run under 0.50. Prices like this allowed for people to move freely and to go where they wanted. A drive in and drive out facility like Innova would have been perfect because you could just simply drive to the nearest restaurant or hotel. As gas prices continue to increase the number of vehicles that people are buying and the type are changing. In July of 2005, a record 20.5 million vehicles were sold in the US and today even on the rebound people are still buying 6 million less then that peak. People are also looking to small vehicles and other forms of transportation to reduce their costs. Transit is continuing to be a important factor in how people move along the city and even the local transit system has seen increases.

Innova does that have better access and parking but these two items alone aren’t enough to make the site worth building on. This greenfield site would work if the city had plans like Markham to build a new downtown core with the building as the focal point but it doesn’t. It actually amazes me that the Fort William council put a event center in a urban setting with all the urban sprawl and cheap gas occurring. Innova would have worked 15-20 years ago when the city was looking at it but it doesn’t today because of changing demographics and lifestyles. The move to a downtown revitalization is started with the condo’s and the extra people living there, the decision by a couple companies to redevelop buildings into lofts. In 10-5 years if we continue to promote this downtown renewal we will have a very vibrant north core.

 

But again, these are my opinions and not designed to sway yours. A person can only come to a educated decision when they look at both sides.

 

The world isn’t prepared

In 2008, the financial crisis brought the house of cards down for millions of people around the world. Unemployment went to record heights and jobs seem to disappear faster then a magicians tricks but it wasn’t a trick. These jobs were gone as a result of massive overspending by governments in the past and a banking system which didn’t have the money to invest anymore. As governments agreed to spend massive amounts of money on stimulus they took on added amounts of debt and deficit to try and do it. While it seems to have been successful in Canada with a large number of people put to work during the Canadian Economic Action plan there was also a massive amount of debt collected. So much debt it has now weighed down on the governments decisions and will change how/when we receive services.

Governments in the past viewed debt as a way to move projects forward that they felt were necessary to our success and theirs. They felt that if they could keep tax rates low and still be able to do certain things that the people would love them. It turned out that it worked and many other leaders followed the same path to get themselves elected and a gold plated pension. They felt that the debt was another persons project and that if hidden properly people wouldn’t even notice the growing number. The problem is that the public is noticing now and we are shocked. In Ontario, the 3rd largest expense is not colleges/universities, infrastructure but it is the money owed on the amount of debt that the government has collected. This number will continue to grow as the government works it way back to the black but with an aging work force and a massive debt load things will be forced to change. A change that many in Ontario will not be ready for but a change that will be a lot like Greece but on our own terms.

Greece is now the guinea pig of the European Union and the world really. They are being tested on to see what the reactions are to austerity and budget cuts. They are being tested on to see how a government(s) will deal with another financial minister coming in and telling them what they need to do to get the money they need to survive. Greece is an advanced stage of many countries in Europe and is just the beginning when it comes to massive number of job loses in the public sector. This is something that will work against the recover as governments across Europe reduce the amount of staff they carry and likely many other government contracts. While there is an opportunity for Canada to steal a large number of workers from these countries who would be willing to come over and join the workforce, start a family and add to the tax base it still will be a challenge. Dealing with the debt is an issue that the governments all over Europe will be dealing with for a over a decade which could lead to one of the slowest decades of growth in modern history but Europe is not alone.

Asia is now the powerhouse of the world, they are the ones buying and producing all the worlds goods. China alone has been growing at a massive 8-9% annually in terms of economic output which has helped them to become one of the fastest growing countries in the world. The problem it seems is that now the economy is starting to slow a little the demand for resources and products has also slowed meaning that exporting countries like Canada will feel a slowdown. There is also the issues of a massive housing bubble in China were the prices of houses have completely outstripped the ability of people to afford them. Massive cities sit dead with millions of homes available for people to enjoy the lavish lifestyle but no one to fill them. Massive trains systems which are completely unaffordable are being built to meet the needs of future commuters that may never come. This bubble collapsing could bring a second world recession and could bring with it a second more massive consequence for our closest ally.

The US is headed directly for a cliff and the bridge builders haven’t yet found a way to build that cliff. Massive amounts of debt and massive amounts of deficit are strangling the US economy and US government. 1.2 trillion annually is being added to the debt of around 16 trillion dollars. The government parties of both sides have agreed that this needs to be dealt with and that this needs to be addressed now but none seem willing to budge from their entrenched thinking. Without a agreement that US could look at a default on its debt which would bring about massive increases in interest rates and close the doors to many countries who they are borrowing from. The plan is also just as dangerous for the US because if they do it too quickly without the private sector picking up slack they will send the US back into another recession. A million jobs are at stake in these cuts and huge increases in taxes are necessary to bring the US even relatively close to the black which doesn’t even yet tackle the debt problem. As per my comment before this could get even worse for the US if the Chinese bubble was to pop because the Chinese would be asking for their money. The Chinese government owns a large portion of the US debt and continues to be a source that they borrow from even thought the hate is there. Again the debt of our past fathers is now hanging over our heads and the borrowers are asking for their money back.

With these debt loads the governments of today and tomorrow will not be able to do the things that we could in the past. The government is spent, there is no money left in the account and there isn’t any in the neighbors account. Government will have to spend the next decade or more working on ways to get the level of debt that they have collected down to a more manageable level. We will see higher taxes, less services and more municipalities on their own to do their own thing. No one wants to be like Greece and I believe that moves once considered too political will be done to bring down the debt levels.

Time to disprove misleading facts

Update: Updated on 3/13/2014 – Changes: Grammar (It was terrible :p) Added Mr. Boychuk’s Resume for viewers to see his past experience.

One of the problems with the internet and social media is that rumors become facts, facts become lies and confusion can reign. It can take a dedicated person to sift through all the information, misinformation and rumors to really understand a particular topic. Your average person typically doesn’t have the time to do this and relies on what they hear from others to inform them. This is why there is a huge task ahead for the City of Thunder Bay and its consultants to present the true facts. I will tackle of the most recent issues that has been brought up by members of the Concerned Citizens of Thunder Bay. There most recent issues with the project result from the fact that they believe that the Innova park site costs less then is actually being presented to the community. They feel that Conrad Boychuk and his team of consultants have their numbers wrong and their own numbers are more aligned with what actually will happen. Here is a blurb from whyinnovaworks.com

Thunder Bay
Hockey 5700
$125 Million at Water St bus terminal

Innova Park is at least $23.5 million cheaper !

They feel that the costs to build a 5,700 seat arena plus a conference center will cost around 82.5 million compared to the 106 million that the consultants feel it will cost. Whyinnovaworks.com wasn’t able to break down the numbers on how they came to this number but the consultants were able to break it down for it with their numbers.

Here are the costs for Innova as provided by the consultants:

Innova Business Park Pricing

Upgrading of roads and intersections outside of the Innova Business Park property: $964,000
Upgrading/widening of public roads within the business park including Central Avenue, Premier Way and Innovation Drive: $4,175,000 (6.75 million was my estimate, with the cost above road improvement costs $5 million)
Site infrastructure upgrades and modifications: $3,150,000
Onsite at grade parking and access from Innovation Drive: $10,000,000
Landscaping including sidewalks: $750,000
Special foundation work including piling: $3,419,000
New Event Centre based: $74,915,000
Sub Total as a Design/Build cost where architectural and engineering fees are included: $93,373,000
Design/Construction contingency of 10%: $9,337,000
Fixtures, fittings and equipment allowance including scoreboard: $3,000,000
Public art allowance: $800,000
TOTAL PROJECT COST: $106,510,000

As you can see in the picture against the costs I was fairly close when it came to what would be needed in terms of upgrading. I was a little over in terms of cost for improving the road network within the site but it was relative close (see above costs). One of the items that is thrown around as an extra cost for the downtown site it that it sits on bedrock which is a major expense to build on. This fact is true but the cost could be semi covered by Thunder Bay Hydro in the remediation of the sub station on the property. (Update) Based on the phase 2 pricing the consultants believe the city will have to carry the cost of the relocation. It will come with a cost of 2 million dollars but still sit within the 106 million dollar price tag. One thing that wasn’t made well known was that there is a major and massive water link running on the Innova site which would need to be moved to accommodate the building. The Innova site currently sits on swampland which means that the event center cannot be built into the ground for fears of flooding. While its unknown how the numbers break down for the Concerned Citizens of Thunder Bay; their number of 82.5 million in underfunded. Their number is underfunded to the tune of about 10 million and even more since there isn’t a contingency fund for the project to fall on. If you look to the marina park redevelopment the project went over budget by about 7.22% and was 40-45 million less then this project. So it is conceivable that the entire contingency fund and a little more could be used to pay for this project. While the 82.5 million looks nice its about 20 million dollars short which means that it truly isn’t the best site from a money perspective.

Here are the costs breakdowns for the Waterfront Site:

The conceptual phase of the design has resulted in a range for the infrastructure pricing.

Cost with 200 stall parking structure
RECOMMENDED – Cost with underground parking
Demolition of existing buildings on site with the exception of the
Camelot Street Hydro Substation – $100,000
Demolition of existing buildings off site for the parking structure – $200,000
Acquisition of land for the parking structure plus demolition – $370,000
Blasting / removal of bedrock – $6,000,000
New Event Centre based on a design/build delivery where architectural and engineering fees are included in the pricing –$70,592,000
Site infrastructure upgrades and modifications – $1,980,500
Landscaping including plazas and sidewalks –$250,000
Pedestrian bridge over Water Street – $3,250,000
Standalone 200 stall parking structure – $6,000,000
Sub Total – $88,742,500
Design/Construction contingency of 10% – $8,874,500
Fixtures, fittings and equipment allowance including scoreboard – $3,000,000
Public art allowance – $800,000
Allowance for advancing existing schedule to relocate Camelot Street Hydro Substation and underground services – $2,000,000
TOTAL PROJECT COST – $103,417,000

 

It should be noted that there is a second option for the downtown site to have a 250 space underground parking area instead of the 200 car stall beside the arena. This would raise the costs by about 22 million more for bedrock removal which is closer to the 125 million that Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay presented. Even with the additional costs of the underground parking space it would still cost $120,393,000 and need to go over budget by another 5 million to get to their suggested target. As you can clearly see that with the recommended plan the site is 22 million dollars less then the suggested costs of the group and also 3 million less then the Innova Site. For a group that is so concerned with how council spends taxpayers money; it sure seems willing to spend more then other options presented. There is also an opportunity to reduce the costs with the downtown site by having the costs associated with another group. The Camelot substation was set to be demolished and the land cleaned by the end of 2020 which means that this is a jump of schedule by only a couple years. If they were willing to accept these costs they would reduce the costs of this site by 2.1 million and possibly more. While it seems like this wont occur it could potentially always be an option for the city to pursue.

 

So in conclusion the Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay comments about the 125 million were INCORRECT and only applicable at the most expensive option with a sizable overrun. The comments from Mr. Ray Smith about it costing closer to $250,000,000 are also completely out of touch. In reality the costs show that the Downtown site is the most effective and most cost effective. Comments like these only hamper the citizens ability to get a true understanding of what the city is trying to present. It hampers people’s ability to make a decision based on strong and effective evidence. I support Concerned Citizens of Thunder Bay taking a stand on an issue and presenting their views but presenting rumors and misinformation as facts is simply wrong.

 

The information that I used for this blog were taken from the Phase 2: Feasibility study (see link) http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/News+$!26+Strategic+Initiatives/docs/Event+Centre+Phase+Two+Feasibility+Study+Report.pdf

 

Here is a nice quote from our Mayor on the subject (quote source attempting to be cited for authenticity):

“We didn’t hire these experts so we could go against their advice. They have great credentials and have been involved in the building of several of these facilities.” – Mayor Keith Hobbs

 

 

Mr. Boychuks’s Resume: http://www.ceiarchitecture.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Conrad-Boychuk_web.pdf

Algoma street is now alive.

Tonight I got my first opportunity to drive all the way down Algoma without having to detour for construction. These last 2 years have been challenging for many business owners with people trying to avoid the construction and in turn the businesses but while driving tonight I noticed something. There is a new and different feel about driving down Algoma, there is a vibrancy that wasn’t there in the past. Something grabbed at me and said that I need to walk this area and see what the stores have inside. The place looked great, the wide sidewalks and the fact that even the light poles were an expense not overlooked. Its an area that looks like its meant for pedestrians and for people to get out and stretch their legs. I will admit that I haven’t been the best when it comes to building local or visiting a local establishment but I will need to enjoy a walk. This area before was very run down, it was cold and sad; people drove past it and didn’t take a second glance but now they will need too.

I wasn’t sure if it was just me that seemed to enjoy the sight of the reconstruction so i posed the question:

Opportunity Thunder Bay: What does everyone think of the new Algoma street? Good or Bad?

 

These were a couple of the responses that I received on my twitter page.

 

– walked it a bit today. Looks fantastic!

– I like it should be done all over downtown so people drive less and walk more

 

 

This is what the view of the street used to be like.

 

 

And this is what it looks like after:

 

Coming SOON

 

 

For Israel to live in peace, Gaza must be freed

Now, I believe that a country has every right to defend itself if it feel threatened and if it has been attacked. The recent rocket attacks on southern Israel are completely unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue.  While there is great religious unrest between these two groups which has gone back to the beginning on humanity this can be changed. Israel wants peace for its people and there have been signs that the Hamas leadership has also wanted to start peace talks. Both these countries are on the brink of renewing a conflict which has been on and off for years. Israel stands on the borders with tanks and troops ready to march in and eliminate hot spots while Hamas is continuing to launch rockets against the people of Israel. I’m going to say that both sides are at fault here and that there is a perfectly easy way to create peace in the area for all.

1. Eliminate the Blockaid – Gaza has been in a blockaid by the Israeli navy for a number of years. Israel believes that this is the best way to avoid rockets and other weapons getting into the country by ship. While it likely has helped to slow the flow of weapons into the country, it has also hampered the economy in Gaza severely. With massive unemployment there has been a huge build up of anger against the west and Israel which has caused more issues for the country. If Israel was to eliminate the blockaid and move the goods to a port in Gaza that would be 50% owned by both countries it could also allow for weapons watch and economic stimulus. The construction of a new deep water port in Gaza would help to create massive amounts of employment for both Israelis and Palestine’s. A port funded by Israel and Gaza could help to protect citizens in both countries and help to present an image of cooperation. A stronger economy in Gaza could also keep people busy with providing for their families instead of building anger against Israel.

2. Stop the expansion in Jerusalem – Israeli developers have been building for years into a disputed area between the West Bank and Isreal for years. This has been a major source of anger for the Palestinians because many have been forced out of their homes as developers demolish areas to build new Jewish settlements. Moving the people out of the disputed lands and then selling the buildings to Palestinians would reduce the anger between the two countries but also allow the developers to recoup some of the cost of building these developments. Building up and building on Israeli land would help to reduce tension in the area and allow for more people to live in a smaller area. This will likely be a key concession on Israels part if they want to create peace in the region and prosperity.

3. Rocket launchers destruction – Israel will not be able to able to really live in peace if the rocket launchers that Hamas and the west bank uses to attack its people are around. Destroying the rocket launchers (all of them) and melting them down to a liquid state will be incredible important for the Palestinians to create peace in the region. These rockets are the biggest threat to the Israeli people and are the main cause of the fighting between the nations. With their destruction there will be a sense of calm and a sense of security for Israel. It will help to set the stage for the peace talks which need to formally happen between these two countries.

4. Education – Helping to foster education for the people of Gaza will help to create a more moderate and educated society. It will also help to get people out of poverty and create a more friendly society for which to work with. There is a saying that ‘you can only poke a sleeping bear so many times before it wakes up’. In this case the saying is true, many people in Gaza live in poverty and this poverty is being used by Hamas as a tool against Israel. If Israel was to help fund schools in the country with some of the money that they spend on military weapons then they could help to education the future generation. Getting these people out of poverty and giving them a financial freedom will be important to taking the most important tool away from Hamas which is the peoples anger. While it will take a long time for the anger to die down and will likely always be simmering if the people can think for themselves and be educated to make proper decisions then it will create peace.

5. Gaza- Israel funding program – A program in which both people in Gaza and Israel can draw from to help them start small businesses and help boost both economies. The fund would be paid in to by both countries and the funds would be distributed 50/50 to promote local businesses. It would also serve as a tool for businesses to use to create new relationships across both borders and boost each others economies. This fund could also be a good place for the Americans and Canadian governments to add into to create a more welcomed presence in the area. Helping to stabilize this region without the use of military muscle could create more positive attitudes towards the Israelis and the western governments.

 

While none of this will happen easily of cheaply it will be necessary for these people to live in peace. Gaza cannot continue to live in poverty because that poverty is helping the extremist views in this area. A stronger economy is Gaza along with a stronger education base will help to push the extremest views out of the country and a more moderate one in. Israel will need to give up concession in order for this peace to really be truthfully created. The block aid and the house building in Jerusalem will need to stop as it is only creating more anger. Both sides will continue to lose if they don’t come to an agreement on how to fix this problem. Israel is here to stay but so are the Palestinians and its time for these two people to start to work together.

October 30th

Blackberry 10 Launch date! There will be multiple events around the world showing off the power of the new Blackberry operating system. It will be released to a number of carriers and is an exciting time for RIM, its customers and its investors. Will be exciting to see more, its expected that we will see the Blackberry London released on this day with some talk of the Blackberry N series (keyboard) which should be released a couple of weeks after that. For someone who remembers the best of the BBOS series coming out in summer of 2011 and having to wait till Jan. 30th 2013 its been a long and hard stretch. Many ups and many downs but now that we have a date to expect to see it then we are all set.

Not 100% sure who owns this photo. Blackberryitalia.com is the best bet

– This is what they should (likely close to this photo) releasing on January 30th.

Social Assistance debit card

There is a fundamental problem when it comes to the way that we distribute and control the social assistance programs here in Canada. These programs seem designed to keep these people on welfare/social assistance or w/e you call it. Barely enough to get by, barely enough to live and it comes with massive public scrutiny that you are just there to suck off the breast of government. Government seems to think that they will give them the least amount needed to live and they will be motivated enough to get a job and move off the system. When your focused on finding you next meal or trying to stay warm its pretty hard to work on a resume and look presentable for a job interview. This government program has been this way for years and many people have been on it for almost all their lives. So the question begs: How do we move people off social assistance?

1. Move to a debit card program. Law enforcement and people alike know when the money is flowing because the number of calls increases. There is a portion of the people on social assistance that instantly take the money and make it flow into liquid courage. By the middle of the month the money which was supposed to last them till the next cheque has been wasted on booze and other substances. Moving to a debit card system could help to prevent this from happening and help to reduce the number of people drinking. In many places today debit, credit are widely accepted which allows for a system like this to be implemented. The card would be refilled at the DSSAB building at the 1st of the month which will give people the money to purchase the items they need. This card would work like a normal one with a couple of exceptions and additions to help these people move on. The card would not allow for cash to be pulled out at an ATM, the cash wold need to be taken from the DSSAB building and random checks out receipts would help to make sure that cash is being properly used. If one was found to have ‘lost’ his receipt on multiple checks they would lose the ability of being able to take out cash and only be able to use the plastic. The card itself would not be able to be used to purchase alcohol from any establishment or in the case of area’s where legalized weed is available the purchase would be denied. Being able to stop the use of welfare money going into bars and being wasted would force the user to focus his money on other issues like food and clothing. The card positives could also be worked out with the government that a % of the HST is taken off purchases to make it easier for people to be able to afford  items like clothing, food and educational materials. Pushing people out of the bad habits and making it harder for them to do these habits could help to save  law enforcement and other agencies time and money.

2. Increase the amount given. How can one get ahead when they are just making it by or falling short on a monthly basis? The amount given to these people needs to be increased to account for the increased costs of living and a second boost to allow them to make other purchases. Giving these people some pride and stopping their constant search for food/shelter can help to get more people off of the system. Getting ahead little by little and giving these people the opportunity to grow confidence and become part of society is hugely important for when it comes to taking that step into the real world.

3. Allowing savings – Yes, someone who is now on welfare/ social assistance cannot have a savings account or put any money aside. :S really? So people are barely getting by or failing to make it and they have no savings to rest on. With the increased money allotment the recipient will also be able to put aside a certain amount per month to start a savings. Working with a bank the investment will be service charge free, and allowed to grow as long as the person is on social assistance. Having a savings account and something to fall back on in tough times could be the difference between someone on the streets or someone in a home. This savings could also be used as a tool to prop these people up and help to push them towards bigger and better things. The idea of a retirement where they don’t need to scrounge for food or worry about a home because they were able to save. To not have this today is ludicrous but is something that desperately needs changed.

 

While everyone is not going to leave the system and some people will try to fraud the system its important to remember that many of these people are just ones who fell on hard times. They are just someone who needs a hand up and someone who can contribute in there own way to our society. The government is doing the opposite of helping these people to get off the system, in fact they are making it harder. They are pushing this people down because they believe its cheaper when it isn’t. The more people we can get off the system the more we can help, it will cost some money but it will be worth it to have these people contributing rather then using.