Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shania Twain Centre becomes money pit, literally

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TIMMINS, Ont. -- A tourist attraction celebrating country-pop singer Shania Twain has officially become a $10-million money pit of taxpayer dollars.

The Shania Twain Centre in this northern Ontario community permanently closes its doors Friday, barely a dozen years after its grand opening, and will be demolished to become part of an open-pit gold mine.

A sinkhole of taxpayer money, the centre consumed some $10 million in government funds for its construction in 2000-2001, and racked up more than $1 million in operating deficits in the years since.

Grant applications to the Ontario and federal governments in the 1990s projected annual attendance of 50,000 tourists by 2005.

Twain, now 47, grew up poor in Timmins, and got her fledgling start singing in local bars before striking it rich on the world stage in 1995.

But the sleek, modern structure, featuring displays of Twain memorabilia along with gold-mining artifacts, has drawn no more than 15,000 people in any year.

In the end, every resident of this hardscrabble, century-old mining town of 47,000 was shelling out $7 a year just to keep the lights on. And by 2010, each visitor to the centre was being subsidized to the tune of $33.72.

It was supposed to be the other way around, with the centre generating enough revenue to at least break even -- that would require about 33,500 paying visitors annually -- while filling local hotels and restaurants with tourists.

"We probably should have taken a better look at the numbers to ensure the expectations could be met," Mayor Tom Laughren said of the planning that happened long before he took office.

A 2011 financial analysis showed that Timmins city council faced continuing operating deficits of at least $233,000, whether it chose expansion or scaling back.

So council last month announced a deal to sell the property to mining firm Goldcorp Inc. for $5 million, just half of the tax dollars spent for construction.

Goldcorp, which will officially acquire the property June 28, plans to demolish the structure to make the gold-seeded land underneath part of a massive open-pit mine being developed adjacent to the town.

The sad end of the once-bright hopes for the centre began last May, when Twain's management company repatriated most of her memorabilia -- including an entire tour bus -- to Las Vegas, where the singer now has a regular show.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 G2

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