Where did the summer go? Seems like I blinked in June and now it's September. As we move into what will be a busy fall at Tom Davies Square, here's a few things to keep an eye on.
The Kingsway Entertainment District
At one time, this was an exciting story, with groups battling for hearts and minds of voters in the months leading to the site selection and city council approval in 2018.
Since it headed (almost immediately) to the courts, however, the KED has become an achingly slow and mystifying legal process, to the point where supporters and even opponents just want a bloody decision. And after a looooong wait for August's case management conference, the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal kicked the can down the road yet again, setting a May 2020 date for the hearing – more than two years after the decision was made, and much longer than the one-year timeline in the LPAT legislation.
What does it all mean? It's a bit confusing, because on the one hand, the city has the money in the bank for the big projects (which includes the KED) after approving the $205-million bond issue. So the money is there for a new arena and the city can wait, especially with wrapping up Maley Drive, the transit overhaul and new garbage bag limits to deal with this fall.
But Gateway Casinos, which plans to build right next door, is facing a big time crunch, with its lease at Sudbury Downs set to expire in the spring. Does Gateway sign another short-term lease in Chelmsford and wait out the legal battle? Will they find another site in the city and begin building right away? Or do they admit defeat and sign a long-term lease at the Downs?
What Gateway decides will have a huge impact on the KED, because building the two, along with a hotel, helps all of the projects be more viable and saves money. But building an arena there as a standalone? I don't think that has ever been seriously examined as a possibility. And if the project falls apart, what happens to the $90 million the city has borrowed for the arena?
Garbage bag limits
Reading over the Sudbury.com archives, it's funny to read about fears from some city councillors about what would happen if they reduced the weekly garbage bag limit below three bags a week.
Similar fears were raised in 2016, but when the limit dropped to two, residents adjusted pretty quickly. How will the one-bag limit go over? It's the norm in a lot of Ontario cities now, and with recycling and composting still unlimited, it will be interesting to see whether fears of widespread illegal dumping will materialize.
Greater Sudbury Transit …. err GOVA!!
In a city as big and spread out as Greater Sudbury, providing transit service that covers the whole area while still being convenient and not crazy expensive was always going to be hard.
You could focus on the busiest routes and likely keep costs down, but then a whole section of the city wouldn't get the sort of service that would be useful. The reform plan that took effect Monday aims to address the challenge by adding more hubs beyond downtown, more frequent service on Sundays and finding ways to connect less populated parts of the city to the hubs using transcab services. A whole new fare structure is in place, and a few hundred bus stops have been adjusted.
You can bet there will be grumbling, but whether the changes are working will be determined by ridership numbers. Greater Sudbury has had the distinction of being one the few major cities in the province where ridership was declining.
If the re-imagined transit system puts a lot more bums in bus seats in the next year to two, it will be a success, no matter how derivative and lame you think the GOVA name is.
The GSDC board
The winter and spring edition of city council ended with a (on the surface, at least) mystifying effort by Mayor Brian Bigger to replace the Greater Sudbury Development Corp. with a brand new board and structure.
The reasons behind the motion later emerged after Bigger agreed to delay a vote on his motion until September.
With both sides of the story now out there, what is the future of the city's economic development body? The board applied for funding for a $3.5-million study to look at removing the railway tracks downtown, and building a new arena and convention centre.
Removing the tracks has long been a dream of many downtown, who argue the $500-million (and maybe much higher) cost would be worth freeing up so much commercial property.
But with CP showing no interest in the plan as recently as two years ago, and city council having rejected a similar study in 2013, it will be interesting to find out what has changed, and whether council will drop the KED in favour of the GSDC plan.
Oh, and there's a $7 million budget deficit we have to pay for, provincial funding cuts to absorb, roundabouts to get used to and fears of a recession.
Buckle up, city hall watchers.
Darren MacDonald covers city hall and political affairs.