A redesigned N. side of the marina

The city has a tender out looking at redesigning the area north of the marina that was left untouched after the major reconstruction in 2009. This area is primarily used for large public events and the current home of BluesFest. The city is looking at redesigning the space to make better for patrons and business who want to use the space. As we have seen in the last couple years with major events held in this area there are significant pedestrian, traffic and general space issues. BluesFest for example has continued to grow annually and continues to bring in more and more people to a relatively small space. In order to allow these groups to continue to bring in more people we need to look at the amount of space made available to them. With the additional people there will be more pedestrian and traffic issues facing this area. Currently there is a struggle to provide enough facilities to vendors and have a site that is functional for mixed traffic. This got me to thinking about what we could do to make this site functional and attractive to events to bring more business downtown. Obviously there would be a costing issue for the City of Thunder Bay as it needs to be within a reasonable limit for the community. There would also be some type of community bash lash as the city tried to undertake its event center proposal in the same area. Add to that the fact the city and private business are still working on a 133 million dollar reconstruction at the marina and one can see the concerns. In this blog I throw those away, I take charge with unlimited funds and no population backlash. Here is my idea for the reconstructed marina park (N. Side).

Personally, I find that the area now is a good layout but its in need of more space and in need of a refresher. As more and more people come to this area it is making it incredibly cramped and showing how desperately this area needs more space. How do you make a case for spending millions of dollars to provide a couple events the area they need to bring in more people only a couple times a year. I believe the answer is 2 fold: A) More people coming to the community means more economic benefit to the community. Fees to the city for using the space, hotel rooms booked, restaurants etc etc. B) This area is already well used by the community in general, adding space to this area will only further allow them to stretch their legs and enjoy the landscape. Economic benefits and increased quality of life are two great reasons for investing this money. So lets take a look at the space as it currently stands.

Marina Original

This is the starting baseline for this project. It saw a little bit of reconstruction work during the 2009 reconstruction but was mostly left untouched. The road on the bottom is a 2 way street and the one looping around the lake is a one way street. There is a significant hill on one portion of the area that jets out the farthest that holds a memorial to the two cities coming together in the 70’s.

Now I believe that this project should be done in phases. In order to allow for the city to continue to use the area as much as possible and to reduce the costs associated with a project of this scale. The first portion of the project will involve infilling Lake Superior (areas highlighted in light green). The city how successful this was in providing additional space to the community by infilling little portions of the water. Here we would go a little more indepth into the water expanding the area to make it more of a rectangle then its current shape. This allows the city to more evenly distribute the new land between vehicle, pedestrian and green space. A infill of this magnitude I believe would take most of a year to complete if not 1.5 depending on the strategy to infill. Here is the range that I believe would be valuable to infill in order to make this space more usable. I am not an expert on how the flow of boats in and out of Pier 3 works so this could inadvertently affect them (good thing is an idea eh).

Green are is infill.

Green are is infill.

So now we have the area infilled we need to do things with this new found space. One of the major things would be to reroute the road system inside of the marina. When the entrance from Cumberland hits the first parking lot it sometimes can be a dog eat dog to get around. It really wasn’t properly designed to handle the extra traffic that is occurring there now. This is why I believe that the its best to reduce the parking lot in half. Leave the Eastern portion of the parking lot there but remove the western portion and replace it was a straight road. The current road around the peninsula would be pushed back closer to the edge of the new infill. Built into the edge of the infill would be a boardwalk that would allow citizens to walk along the edge of the water with areas jetting out to provide a rest area/sightseeing area. There would be a buffer between the road and the boardwalk lined with trees to provide a sound/sight barrier from the vehicles. There would also need to be some sort of retaining wall as the road would need to cut through where there is currently a hill. Removal of that hill is likely too expensive so a retaining wall would be sufficient in this case. Parking lots are laid out in blue, 2 are able to be expanded should the need demand it.

Light brown is a boardwalk, Blue is a designated parking lot and the areas black are roads.

Light brown is a boardwalk, Blue is a designated parking lot and the areas black are roads.

Phase 3 would see the completion of the overall project. It would see the stage area moved backwards of where it currently sits and see it increased in size to allow for larger concerts and events. The stage being moved backwards would allow for more venders, more people and more amenities to fit inside of the new space. Behind the parking lot would see a upgraded area dedicated to the unification of Port Arthur and Fort William. There would likely need to be some stairs and face work on the hill but it would provide a great lookout. The #1 on the map would be the new location for the shed that was built in 2011. I see no need for it to be destroyed after only recently being completed, moving the building over a couple feet would save the taxpayers money. The dark brown would be the paths that connect the different areas of the park together. The current set up allows for a decent movement of people around the space and some of the current paths could be saved. The expansion would mean they need to be pushed back to properly fit the new space and connections to the boardwalk would happen every so often. The dark green shows the existing areas against the new infill, some areas where left untouched to allow the user to see the current item occupying that space. In this case the bathrooms, playground and tai-chi park are left from the original satelite image.

Marina Phase 3

I believe that there is a need for a large empty space for people to run around and enjoy the land. There was a big emphasis on buildings in the current reconstruction which has turned out great but left the area lacking that big open space to run. A couple pieces of art here and there (that can’t easily be destroyed) along with a couple other amenities and it would be a very nice space. What we have now works well but we could use that little bit more space to make it a really perfect environment. Clearly, I don’t know what the cost of expanding this area would be or if there is any/enough public support to push a project like this forward. This is simply my idea for the tender that the City of Thunder Bay has put out. If anything I hope they resurface the road in this section and the parking lots, they’re a mess.

Detour -> Detour and another detour

Road construction season is famous in Thunder Bay it signs the beginning of camping season, a significant portion of the population returns to work and you run into endless detours. The past couple years have seen the budget for roads and other infrastructure projects skyrocket. This in itself is a great thing for the city and the drivers as it means less potholes come spring. One of the biggest issues for Thunder Bay drivers is that there doesn’t seem to be any real consistency to how they go about doing their projects. Its a stretch of road here and a stretch of road there which means detour after detour. It seems that this year will be no different when it comes to playing the avoid construction game. Many major projects will see drivers forced to detour or delayed in the numerous construction zones. For those who live on Valley street and want to get to Intercity Mall the easiest way is to hit both expressways. That will be an issue this year as Valley street undergoes a 4 laning, the Harbour Expressway undergoes intersection work and general resurfacing between large sections. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge issue as the city has 4 main North-South Arteries to deal with the extra traffic. It also has 4 East-West Arteries that can move those extra pockets of traffic to the available North-South corridors. Again this is where the detouring issue becomes a major problem for the city. Arthur Street will see 2 major stretches reduced for resurfacing purposes, drivers who take Oliver will be delayed or rerouted around the Golf Links construction. That’s 2 major East-West corridors who wont be adequately able to tackle the extra strain of the extra traffic. Add onto the fact that the Harbour Expressway is seeing work and we are now down to one roadway that seems to have no construction work delaying it and it is at the farthest North part of the city as possible. For drivers of the southern part of the city they will see one of their North-South Arteries again taken up by construction meaning that there is 1 North-South and 1 East-West unaffected.

To me this isn’t proper planning and if we are going to continue to approve more money into infrastructure (which I think we should) we need to change the way we do things. We need to make sure that we have 2 North-South and East-West corridors available while the others are being worked on. If this means taking on larger stretches of road at one time in order to get work done in a shorter period so be it. The city also needs to work on improving their signage required by contractors to warn motorists about the impending construction. Many people complain that its not until they are right onto the construction that they are notified that ‘hey, find another route’. While this is something that will typically be learned by motorists it can pose a challenge for tourists or people unfamiliar with the area. Improving this will have a positive impact on the motorists that drive in our city and the tourists who come and visit. While this in the big scheme of things is a small fish to fry it could be valuable to win over some voters in the next election (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Improving traffic flow will help to save the citizens of the city money and will help the environment. Making a couple changes here and there in the way we do construction work and how we go about planning it could make road construction just a little more bearable. As much of a pain it is to try and avoid all the construction in the city its nice to drive down a smooth road and not hit 10,000 potholes.

Now, I am not an engineer or an expert in how the city decides what roads need to be works on and what are acceptable. These are my personal opinions on the topic. I would love some feedback from those in the road construction business on how things can be improved from that aspect and from city engineering. Below are maps of North and South road construction projects.

Orange is resurfacing and network improvements. The Green dots are replacement of traffic lights.

Orange is resurfacing and network improvements. The Green dots are replacement of traffic lights.

Orange is resurfacing and network improvements.

Orange is resurfacing and network improvements.

Maps South - Tbay

As you can see if you live in the north side of the city and on the outskirts you are going to have a rough time this summer getting into the city and back home without running into a ton of traffic.

Should we have a plebiscite?

Plebiscite? That’s one of the most hot button issues here in Thunder Bay right now and likely will continue to be into the election. I personally was totally against the plebiscite at first thinking that it wasn’t a necessary part of the process to build this facility. We have elections every 4 years to elect people we feel would be represent out interests for that. Then I thought about how $106 million dollars is a huge chunk of money and that I know I want a say in this decision. I feel that to this point I am an educated person on this topic, I have attended almost every public open house and read the Phase 1 and 2 reports multiple times in details. So it dawned on me as to what this question should ask if it were to be asked and then what type of scenario would I want this question to be asked in. For the readers a plebiscite is a binding agreement made by the citizens of an area to its representatives. If we were to say “do you want to build this arena” and the vote turned out yes then we would be legally obligated to build it. It is the ultimate ‘The citizens have spoken’ moment and could be incredibly damaging to not only our city’s finances but our cities future. So for me to approve of a potential plebiscite I will lay out my criteria for it to be acceptable in my mind.

#1: Phase 3 needs to be completed. We need to have a business plan, we need to have all the numbers and we need to have the designs in order to truly understand what we are getting ourselves into. Only after phase 3 is completed will we know the annual costs to the city, the benefits to the general area, the benefits to the city and if its something that we can afford. My teachers taught me to do my homework before jumping into something and with $106 million dollars on the line this is no different.

#2: The money needs to be there. We need to have a commitment from the province, the federal government, private industry and the ReNew Thunder Bay fund. Without this money the plan isn’t feasible and no matter how much I want the arena it shouldn’t go forward. We need to have this money firm and in our hands before we consider going to the public and potentially asking the question. I also personally believe that we need to have more then the 22 million the city has set aside for the building to cover overruns. The city is notorious for overruns on large projects and having to go back to council for more money would be a huge negative. If we need to wait a year or 2 before construction to make sure we have our money then so be it.

#3: We need to have an anchor tenant and an operator to make sure that this building is full as often as possible. Thunder Bay Live! has proven their interest in the building and has the support of both the Lakehead Thunderwolves and Winnipeg Jets organization but we need this is contract form. We need to make sure that the concerts that have driven past our community for years show up and fill the building. We need to draw in as much economic potential and have the team behind the building to do just that.

With these 3 criteria only then do I believe that we should be going to the community for their opinion on the case. I am still incredibly skeptical on the idea on having a plebiscite over this issue but if we were then this is what I would want. I want the community to have the facts and be education on their decision. I want the financial backing to protect this community from having to take on massive amounts of debt and I want the knowledge to make the building a success. We cannot afford to have this building sit empty most of the year and be a negative draw on the taxbase. We need this to be positive for our community in economic, social and financial terms as much as humanly possible.

So if there was to be a plebiscite in my mind it would have to be after these were all met and I believe the question would have to be “Do you want this project to proceed to construction and then operation phase?”. The question clearly asks if people want to see the building built and operated by the city of Thunder Bay. They accept the positives and negatives of this project and everything else that can come with it. Hopefully, people who are voting will be educated on this topic and understand what they are voting for. I believe if we do vote on this that we make a real push to get the youth to vote on this topic as it will be incredibly important to their futures and their taxes. If this building is going to last us 60 years like the last one then they need to have a proper vote in this.

This is my opinion on the matter. Whats yours?