It won’t be long until Thunder Bay’s tennis players will be able to hit the court year-round.
At Monday’s meeting, Thunder Bay City Council gave its approval to a plan that will see a new, all-season tennis facility built at Chapples Park.
The city is providing some land, and about $1.5 million in funding, to the Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre (TBCTC), which will operate the new facility. It will be located northwest of the existing TBCTC and will include six indoor courts.
The tennis centre currently has nine courts, but all are outdoors.
The entire project will cost just under $4 million, TBCTC vice-president Pasi Pinta said, adding about $3 million of that is already in place, coming from the city, FedNor, and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.
The TBCTC also plans to do its own fundraising, and turn to other potential funders – including Tennis Canada – for support.
Pinta said construction will likely start in 2023, although it’s possible work could begin later this year, depending on how fast the process moves.
“The build itself is not that complicated,” he said. “It amounts to building new tennis courts, so you’re digging ground, you’re putting in gravel, packing it down, and … basically then building a ballast that keeps the the bubble down that goes around the tennis court.”
“The construction is not particularly complicated,” Pinta said. “As such, even if we started spring 2023, let’s say we would be able to get it done in a matter of months.”
Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro was one of the council members who voted in favour of the project on Monday.
“My belief [is] facilities like this are important to giving people a reason to live in Thunder Bay, to stay in Thunder Bay,” Mauro said Tuesday. “I don’t mean to overemphasize this. Obviously, there’s a lot of work that you do at the council table that might be seen to carry a bigger significance than just approving an indoor tennis facility.”
“But it’s 2022, and I really do believe that amenities like indoor tennis, like an indoor turf facility, are important to making the city an attractive place for people to live and work and to move to.”
And while the version of the tennis facility council approved on Monday would be located next to the site chosen for a proposed indoor turf sports facility, Mauro said that didn’t play a role in his support for the tennis project.
“As someone who was very interested and supportive of the indoor turf project, we’re in a position where we don’t even know that that’s going to happen,” Mauro said. “It’s my belief that this council may not likely be in a position to make a decision on indoor turf.”
A popular sport
What is certain, however, is the city’s tennis community is growing, and there’s a need for year-round courts; there has been no place to play tennis in Thunder Bay during the winter months for about four years.
Brendan Boudreau, tennis pro at the Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre, said the sport surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was one of the few sports that you could do, because there’s not many people on a court,” he said. “You’re spread out.”
“We were just packed, slammed with lessons all the time, people asking for lessons,” Boudreau said. “We had great clinics running that were always filling up.”
The lack of indoor courts hampers the development of skilled players, he said.
“If you even take, let’s say, a couple of weeks off due to injuries or something, let’s say in the summer, you lose a little bit of your touch, you lose a little bit of what you’ve learned,” he said. “Now imagine taking off however many months.”
“Then going back, you spend a lot of that first month playing, just shaking off the rust and getting back into the groove of things.”
This new facility will also allow the tennis centre to host winter tournaments, Boudreau said.
“There are tournaments all year round through the Ontario Tennis Association,” he said. “And it’s even better for us here in Thunder Bay, because now we have our Mid-Canada Open tournament, which we’re trying to get back going this summer.”
“Just being able to have indoor courts, and not having to worry about weather and scheduling, is huge.”