Tennis bubble won’t open in 2023

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A six-court bubble at Chapples Park won’t open in 2023 as hoped, but the Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre still hopes to secure approvals and complete substantial work on-site this year.

THUNDER BAY — A local tennis group is expressing disappointment that an indoor tennis project at Chapples Park won’t open this year, as discussions with the city drag into their second year.

Officials with both the Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre and the City of Thunder Bay indicated the parties are achieving progress towards key agreements needed to move the project forward, but negotiations remain ongoing.

The tennis centre had previously expressed cautious optimism its proposed six-court bubble could be complete and open for use by late fall of 2023.

Faced with delays in securing city approvals, the group now hopes to begin construction work this fall and complete it next spring.

The facility will be a game-changer for tennis in the city, says the tennis centre’s project lead Pasi Pinta, allowing play year-round and through poor weather in the warmer months.

He believes the opportunity for year-round tennis will not only bolster the hopes of athletes participating in serious competition, but also welcome more new players into the sport.

“There will be no reason why the next Bianca, Felix or Leylah could not come from Thunder Bay,” he said. “It’ll be a feature in the city that’s been sorely lacking for a number of years – indoor tennis as well as pickleball… We’re excited about that.”

The facility will offer daytime hours for up to 16 pickleball players at a time, using a flexible tennis court that can be converted to four pickleball courts.

City council gave its blessing in principle to the centre’s bubble on city land at Chapples in May 2022.

However, construction can’t move ahead until council grants final approval for a ground lease and a funding agreement for the project.

The funding agreement will also allow the $1.5 million in support committed by the city to begin flowing, representing nearly half its overall budget

The club had been aiming for council approval of those documents by the end of August in order to begin construction in September, aiming for a fall opening, but will not make that milestone.

General manager of community services Kelly Robertson said the city had received all information requested to date from the tennis centre late last week, adding city staff are now actively reviewing the documents.

The documents the city had requested included a site plan, updated construction costs and a draft operating budget, membership revenues and projections, and a life-cycle renewal plan.

Robertson indicated an update on the status of the project could occur in September.

Pinta said funding secured by the tennis centre is not endangered by a delay into 2024. That includes $1 million from the NOHFC, $500,000 from FedNor, a $200,000 grant from Tennis Canada and Rogers, as well as the city’s $1.5-million commitment.

The centre has pegged construction costs at roughly $3.5 million, up from a $3-million estimate in 2020.

“While the opportunity to complete the project in its entirety in 2023 is no longer there, the hope is that a permission to proceed soon from the city will allow [a] substantial amount of the required construction this fall,” Pinta said.

Pending that approval, the group hopes to complete work this fall to connect underground services, excavation for the dome, and forming and pouring of the grade beam that will anchor the structure.

Other work including paving of the courts and delivery and installation of the dome package would be completed next year.

The tennis centre’s use of existing outdoor courts at Chapples is set out in a 1993 letter of understanding with the city. The group is expected to pick up more significant costs under the new lease.

The organization released a call for tenders in July on a construction package that includes site preparation, construction of the courts, underground services, and drainage.

Pinta called the delays disappointing, but said they haven’t dampened enthusiasm over a facility that represents a decades-long boon for the local tennis community.

“Of course, we had high hopes already in 2022 that we would be substantially completed… so things have taken longer than anticipated,” he said. “It’s really the long game that we need to look at.”

With files from Matt Vis

Credit TO Owner