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Opinion: Arenas and casinos, a tale of two cities

Ward 5 candidate Mike Parent wonders why, when it comes to arenas and casinos, North Bay managed to do what Sudbury could not
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Mike Parent is a 2022 municipal election candidate. He's seeking the seat in Ward 5.

In Northeastern Ontario, there are two neighboring cities located less than 120 km apart. Both cities wanted new arenas for their OHL teams, casinos for those that enjoy the experience and community centres with twin ice pads.

The smaller of the two cities mulled over a number of options for their OHL arena. Its city council and mayor ultimately decided that renovating their current arena, located in the heart of the city, would be the most affordable and practical option.

The city had a budget of $12 million for the renovation and unanticipated expenses brought the total actual costs of the project to $16 million. This city worked with the casino operator to find a suitable location to build a casino, at no expense to the taxpayers (today, that casino is contributing to the city’s tax levy). 

Finally, this city’s leadership fostered healthy relationships with the federal and provincial governments, receiving funding of $25 million for its community centre with twin pads, leaving approximately $26 million for the city to cover.

The larger of the two cities paid consultants hundreds of thousands of dollars for a report to recommend where a new arena should be built. The report recommended that downtown would be the best location to build a new arena. 

The council ignored the data and facts that were presented to them, and instead opted to build a new arena outside of the city, at a location with no existing services or infrastructure, next to a dump. Some proponents of the project provided misleading and false information to the public about the development, which now included a new casino and a hotel. Opposition groups formed and stalled the project. 

This city had secured low-interest loans to cover the $90 million for the arena and the $9 million to bring services to the build location (pre-pandemic estimates). Recent estimates by competent parties suggested that the cost had likely ballooned to more than $150 million and none of the pre-qualified construction firms would commit to a price given the numerous risks. 

One of the three companies that pre-qualified to bid on the new arena, a world-renowned company that specializes in arena construction, declined to submit a proposal because of their concerns with the procurement process. The actual updated cost to build this arena has come in at a whopping $215 million. 

If built, home and business owners would have an increase in property taxes of two per cent for the next 30 years.

The construction of the casino, and the hotel are not likely to proceed as the mayor has changed his position and will no longer support the project given the cost and impact to property taxes.

The community centre with twin ice pads the council has promised? The city has gone to other levels of government with cap in hand and have yet to receive any commitments to fund. 

The pre-pandemic cost for this project was $40 million and the city will only proceed if they receive a two-thirds funding commitment from the provincial and federal governments. Given the other northern city’s updated cost estimates for a very similar project, it’s probably safe to estimate the twin ice pads will cost more than $50 million to build.

As you are probably aware, the cities in this article are North Bay and Sudbury. 

Today, North Bay has a renovated OHL arena where fans gather to cheer their teams and attend other entertainment events, a new casino which is attracting mostly local and some out-of-town patrons and generating tax dollars. 

North Bay is also imminently beginning construction of their new community centre with twin ice pads. The total costs to North Bay taxpayers will be approximately $41 million. 

Sudbury has not advanced any of their projects which have now become very divisive issues in our community. If built, these projects could cost taxpayers more than $235-$245 million dollars (if government funding was received for the twin pads). 

The difference between the two cities? Leadership. Our city deserves better. 

We need leadership that will work together in a transparent manner and get things done. If you want to live in a progressive city, vote for change in October and help elect collaborative and competent councillors led by an experienced and visionary mayor. 

Mike Parent is running in the municipal election, seeking the city council seat in Ward 5.