A sad and unfortunate chapter of our community's history seems to finally be done.
After years of fractious debate, the reality of the Kingsway Entertainment District project is clearly untenable. What we need to do now is learn from the mistakes of the past six years.
One of the clearest things we need to learn is that once a decision is made, that doesn't mean we stop ensuring the decision was a good one. The costs of the KED project did not magically double overnight. Had we regularly been reviewing the realities of this project with open eyes and open ears, it would have been clear this project wasn't feasible for quite some time.
Council had this opportunity last July and voted against getting a fulsom report. In fact, at Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwin's request, council instead shut down debate and ended the meeting. To avoid controversy, the majority of council had staff focused only on the best-case scenarios for the KED, rather than likely scenarios. That is just irresponsible stewardship.
Concerns were clearly and regularly being brought up by members of the community and a minority of council, but not listened to at the council table.
Every project will have downsides, and every councillor should remain open to hearing them even when they support a project overall, so surprises like this don't happen. Instead, council asked for overly optimistic reports with unrealistic timelines for legal challenges, community debate and costs.
The consequences of these overly optimistic reports are now clear. It is never a good idea to bury your head in the sand, but especially on a project of this magnitude. Years have been wasted and several opportunities for sober reflection ignored.
Thankfully, reality caught up before we were fully committed.
The reality of the world is quite different from June, 2017, when a previous council approved the KED. Many of of us work from home now, and even more of us shop from home. You can even gamble from home.
As a result, there is a sharp decline in demand for commercial real-estate. Using taxpayer money to build a brand new commercial district at a time when demand for existing districts is declining is financial suicide.
Instead, we need to be smart and strategize new uses for all business districts across our community. Conversions to mixed use commercial and residential is one strong option. Attracting new businesses to our community is another.
We need to shift our focus to making what we already have as successful as possible. These districts do not simply disappear if we ignore them. High vacancy rates mean lower taxes and higher management costs of these areas. This is not just a downtown issue, this will be an issue for all business districts across greater Sudbury.
The communities amalgamated into Greater Sudbury have struggled, as well. They have had to fight to keep basic amenities like grocery stores in their area. We need strategies for all of our main streets. We need to maximize the value in every neighbourhood we've already invested in.
The final lesson from this sad tale is that big shiny projects are nice-to-have amenities. The fundamentals of our city is where the real returns are.
Sudbury is a city that should be thriving. Our major industry is one of the few industries in the world with clear future demand right now. Our mining supply industry has potential to be a global player in the development of new technologies and the manufacture of advanced battery powered technology, creating high paying jobs and real economic development for our community.
Sudbury has all the ingredients to succeed; we just need the leadership to steer that ship. But industry fears Sudbury due to a history of not reinvesting in its existing infrastructure. Our roads are in shambles, one of our community’s most profitable industrial areas, Fielding Road, had to wait for their infrastructure to begin fully failing before the city began maintaining it.
New companies see the way we treat our existing businesses and think twice about locating here. While the last six years have been a tumultuous and divisive time, it’s not too late to turn the page and work together, on a successful community for us all.