Big Thunder Sports and Recreation Park: Business Case for Reopening of Big Thunder
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In late November 2010, Professor Doug Thom, Faculty of Education at Lakehead University asked Dr. Bryan Poulin, Faculty of Business Administration at Lakehead University, if he would be interested in preparing a business case for the reopening of Big Thunder, known to many parts of the world for hosting the 1995 Nordic World Ski Championships. On 28 December, Bryan Poulin and finance student Doug Ng agreed to prepare a Business Case with the assistance of Friends of Big Thunder (FOBT). Interviews with 25 representative stakeholders in the Thunder Bay Region and across the country attest to the support and the enthusiasm that Big Thunder generates in the Thunder Bay Community and well beyond it. This may seem surprising since it has been 15 years since it was closed following the 1995 World Championships. Surveys returned by 56 stakeholders also confirm what Big Thunder needs to become, and what it does not. Big Thunder needs to become a year around sports, recreational and training center for people young to older, ordinary and special in all sports and recreation and other activities that naturally belong on Site. Big Thunder is not to be left to deteriorate, nor is it to be sold to the highest bidder. In short it is a public asset, and ought to be treated as such. Only 14 km from Thunder Bay, Big Thunder holds tremendous potential to add to the health and social and economic well-being of the City and Region of Thunder Bay, the Province of Ontario and beyond. This Business Case agrees with two previous studies – UMA Engineering Study (2005) commissioned by the Ontario Realty Corporation and Lakehead University School of Outdoor Recreation Study (2003) – in that it finds only three key challenges to reopening the Big Thunder Site: right to use the Site to its highest potential; sufficient funding to reopen the Site properly, and long term sustainability. Five options for reopening the Site are considered, from modest to visionary. It is the consensus of the stakeholders -- confirmed by preliminary market and financial feasibility—to choose the most complete option. The one time capital cost to refurbish and expand the Big Thunder Site to its potential is $22 million. This includes detailed design and contingency costs, and $2 million for supply of potable water to the Site by the City of Thunder Bay, and assumed as its contribution. The other $20 million in capital cost is to be provided by higher levels of Government. Others, for example Fort William First Nation, Lakehead University and Confederation College, would contribute though higher education and training programs. Private organizations contribute through partnerships, memberships and donations. Visitors pay reasonable usage fees. Big Thunder becomes sustainable by Year 5 with net income, or revenue minus costs, is sufficient to cover current operations and future maintenance and capital improvements. Big Thunder is worth many times $22 million it will cost to reopen. Benefits are many: not only the ‘destination attraction’ called for in the 2008 Rosehart Report and 150 new jobs; $4 million annually to the local economy; new opportunities for young to old, ordinary and special. One representative stated, “Our sport could really use another top level facility in North America.” Another, “Big Thunder is a magnificent natural resource that can support related economic development to the City and surrounding area. It is more than economic benefit. It is social and sport and recreation, and economic.” The vision is for Big Thunder to be an important part of the Region, and beyond. Implementation is in five steps: 1) securing right to use the Site for Sports, recreation and other activities; 2) seeking sufficient funding to open the Site properly; 3) assembling an ethical, experienced Board and senior management team; 4) incorporating Big Thunder Corporation as a not-for-profit enterprise; 5) pursuing partnerships in ways that provide optimal social, environmental and economic benefits to the Community of sports, recreation and related stakeholders. The following Concept Drawing is part of this summary.