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Editorial: When it comes to an event centre, the answer is in the data

And Ron Bidulka is the guy who will help us parse that data

We’ll know in a matter of weeks the recommended location for Greater Sudbury’s new event centre.

The process has been long and it’s been emotional. As a news organization, we haven’t seen Nickel City citizens this engaged in municipal decision in years.

It seems everyone you talk to has an opinion. While there have been, ostensibly, three locations on the table — Dario Zulich’s True North Strong project on The Kingsway; Dalron’s South End proposal; and downtown — really, the debate has centred on only two: downtown and The Kingsway.

Northern Life/ sees merit in both proposals.

Downtown is central. The project would allow for the upgrading of core infrastructure. It fits with the city’s in-filling approach to development to minimize urban sprawl. And paired with the other proposed big projects, a downtown event centre would make the city’s core an arts and entertainment hub that would be the envy of the North.

But downtown poses construction challenges. Land would have to be expropriated. A big contingency fund would have to be built into the cost of the project because when you dig in the wet, swampy ground of the core, you never know what you’ll find. 

Parking is an issue. While it may be true there are thousands of parking spaces downtown, they’re not central or convenient — they’re spread all over the place.

On the other side, Zulich’s stated goal is to create an entertainment district that would draw crowds year-round. He wants Greater Sudbury to be the sports and entertainment capital of Northern Ontario and his proposal for a massive development is ambitious.

However, it could be argued the project contributes to sprawl. Since the city OK’d the big box development on The Kingsway, the retail sector has been steadily spreading east. True North Strong would capitalize on that, but also help spread it farther afield.

Concerns the city has hit or is approaching peak retail (that is to say the total square footage of retail space within a community versus the population to make that space profitable) is real.

If True North Strong draws businesses to it, many will be existing businesses picking up stakes and relocating, leaving blank holes in other areas of the city that may or may not be filled.

Given the importance of the issue, what we’ve tried to do is provide a space for people to debate. In the past couple of weeks, downtown proponents have made a concerted and strategic effort to push their agenda, launching a Facebook group, taking to social media and writing letters to the editor.

We’ve published several, but not all, of the letters we’ve received. While Kingsway people have not written many letters, they are well-represented in comment threads on and on our Facebook page.

That debate is healthy and good. The clash of ideas is necessary.

Ron Bidulka, the consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers contracted to help with the criteria for the project and for the site selection process, has said he is “agnostic” when it comes to the location of an event centre. That’s good. He should be.

We, however, are not agnostic. Northern Life/ cares immensely where it goes.

As we said, emotions are high right now. Regardless of which side you’re on, the entire city stands to benefit in one way or another. The question is which location offers the most benefit, the least risk and the best return on investment.

And no one — not city council, not the downtown people, not The Kingsway supporters — are in a position to answer that question. Only Ron Bidulka, who has been through this process more than 50 times, has the track record, the knowledge and the skills to do that.

The answer is not in any emotional connection and it’s not in who has the most vision. The answer lies in the data Bidulka and his team have spent months collecting​ and parsing.

We may respond emotionally to the vision, but we must decide cerebrally on the location.

And until we see the proposal criteria and the report from the site selection committee, we won’t have a clear picture on how to proceed.