It is beginning to look as if the KED may not be dead after all. It is also looking as if renovating the downtown arena may no longer be an option if we want to keep the Sudbury Wolves. Let me explain.
During our meeting on Sept. 13, city council was presented with a motion from staff that would have allowed us to terminate all contracts and end all obligations with the Greater Sudbury Arena / Event Centre project, with the exception of delaying the termination of the Progressive Design Build RFP and the Venue Operator RFP to July 31, 2023. It was also recommended the city hold off on transferring the land back to the developer until that same date. I moved this motion and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc seconded it.
In my opinion, it made sense to put the two RFPs on pause and hold on to the land until we receive a report in Q2 of 2023 that provides an overview of the options available to city council with respect to the future of an event centre in Sudbury. At that time, the new council would be able to evaluate the potential of renovating Sudbury Community Arena or building a new event centre in the downtown core or some other location in the city.
After considerable discussion, councillors Gerry Montpellier (Ward 3) and Fern Cormier (Ward 10) moved an amendment to terminate all contracts and obligations immediately, including the two RFPs, and transfer the land back to the developer. The amendment was supported by a majority of councillors.
Then on Sept. 16, Dario Zulich, owner of the Sudbury Wolves, unveiled a new $600,000 video board, explaining, “I just want everyone in Sudbury to experience hockey like they've never experienced before. Especially these last few years while we're in this barn. We won't be here much longer. And I can just tell you this, the Sudbury Wolves, very soon will be playing in a brand new arena somewhere.”
Mr. Zulich seemed to be making it clear that when his current lease expires at the Sudbury Community Arena, his team will be playing in a “new” event centre, not in a renovated arena. His lease expires as early as May 31, 2024. It includes three one-year extensions until the final expiry date on May 31, 2027.
Mr. Zulich did not indicate any preference for where he would like a new event centre to be built, so it seems as if he would be perfectly fine playing either downtown or any other suitable location in Greater Sudbury. It would not necessarily need to be on the Kingsway.
He also did not say specifically that he would be moving his franchise out of the city. However, when you sit down and analyze the situation closely, unless it is the will of the new council to build a new event centre within the next several years, Mr. Zulich may be forced to relocate to another city rather than wait for city council to make a final decision.
For instance, the best spot for a new event centre downtown would be on the block of land between Shaughnessy and Minto Streets. That footprint would allow for a smaller facility than what was proposed on the Kingsway and would likely cost no more than $120 million.
However, building it in the downtown would require the purchase of a number of properties on that block. If the owners do not want to sell, it would require expropriation, which would take up to 18 months and most likely cost the city at least $20 million to acquire the properties. It would also require a new indoor parking structure to replace the current parking lots that would be lost from that block of land, leading to approximately $40 million in additional expenses.
So, the total cost of a new event centre downtown will be at least $180 million at today’s rates, and that doesn’t include any additional site preparation costs.
However, the identical $120 million event centre could be built on the Kingsway with little to no cost for land or parking and only the site preparation cost to add on. So, it stands to reason that the only fiscally responsible option for city council might end up being to locate the “new” event centre on the Kingsway as part of the KED development.
In my opinion, Mr. Zulich seems to have started the clock ticking with a hard deadline of May 31, 2027. If the solid commitment by the city to build a new event centre with an opening date of September 2027 at the latest is not in place soon, then it is quite possible Mr. Zulich will be forced to move his team out of the city. And, this commitment would have to be set in stone with no chance of delay, and with the strong majority support of city council.
It is now imperative for all candidates for mayor and council to make their position clear. We need to find out if they are committed to renovating Sudbury Community Arena or willing to consider building a new event centre in the most cost-effective location. You will recall that the majority of our current city council gave consideration to renovating the downtown arena back in 2015. At that time we determined that it was not worth the investment and we decided to build a new event centre instead.
As the city councillor of Ward 5, I do not support the option of renovating Sudbury Community Arena. I am still very much committed to examining all options with regard to a new event centre and will commit to supporting a location that will provide the city with the greatest long-term economic benefit, for the lowest cost, and the least amount of risk.
Whether that is downtown or some other location doesn’t matter. But we do need a new event centre, and I am confident that we can build one that is financially viable.
There seems to be no doubt that the location of the event centre is back on the table and is going to be very much an election issue. I don’t want to lose the Sudbury Wolves, and if we don’t have the Sudbury Wolves, we don’t have any reason to spend tens of millions of dollars on any event centre, renovated or new.
Robert Kirwan is seeking re-election to the Greater Sudbury city council seat in Ward 5.