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.