Taxpayer Twain wreck in Timmins – by Dean Beeby (Canadian Press/Montreal Gazette – February 1, 2013)

TIMMINS, Ont. — A tourist attraction celebrating country superstar Shania Twain has officially become a $10-million money pit of taxpayer’s cash worthy of a hurtin’ song itself.

The Shania Twain Centre in this northern Ontario community permanently closed 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 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 a year no matter what future business plan it chose, whether expansion or scaling back.

So council last month announced a deal to sell the property to mining firm Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) 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.

Recent media reports have suggested the centre cost as little as $3.7 million to build. But a May 2011 analysis by PKF Consulting Inc. in Toronto says the figure was actually about $10 million for all construction, including the building, site development and upgrades to the co-located gold-mine tour attraction.

The entire 65-acre site is to be razed, including the gold-mine tour facilities, and added to Vancouver-based Goldcorp’s planned open pit.

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