There has been a lot of debate in the news and on social media surrounding (Dario) Zulich’s development proposals and the relocation of Sudbury’s Arena.
Discussions often circle around budgets, location, parking and transportation, but rarely seem to touch on the most important issue at hand: the integrity of the covenant between citizen and government.
Ten years ago, when I first began living and working in Sudbury’s downtown, there was a growing effort among the artists, business owners and residents of the area to revitalize their neighbourhood. Soon, we were told of a "Master Plan" that the city was developing towards that same goal. We were asked, as concerned citizens, to work with our government towards a common result: a prosperous downtown.
In the years that followed, the community effort intensified. When Sapporo Ichibang nearly closed down four years ago, the community rallied together to save Sudbury’s oldest and best-loved sushi restaurant. When Laurentian University announced its plans for a new architecture school, those with a strong vision for our community fought tooth-and-nail to build it downtown. When they saw a need for a more positive dialogue about our city’s centre, local artists rallied together to host a massive international art festival in the streets and on the walls.
All of these people chose to act, not just for themselves, but for their community. They — and countless others who have bought homes, raised families, started businesses or taken jobs in our area — have all invested in their neighbourhood.
I watched as the local media got on board, championing local business and arts; sharing photos of what Sudbury’s downtown used to be, inspiring readers and giving citizens hope for positive change. They, too, seemed to trust what our government kept telling us was an earnest effort to better our community.
But, as it turns out, we were all fooled. After spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars on planning and consultations and investments in their "Master Plan," the city is likely to remove one of the largest permanent institutions from our neighbourhood — a part of our infrastructure and economy that we have come to rely on.
When there is a concert or hockey game at Sudbury Arena, downtown businesses benefit. Some restaurants even have to schedule extra staff on event nights. It is a trickle-down effect that helps the business owners, their staff and even the musicians performing at live venues in the area. These are all exclusively locally owned businesses, and not major corporations and box-stores like the ones on The Kingsway, who will surely benefit in the same way from the planned relocation.
And the resentment about this plan seems to be directed towards Dario Zulich, which, in my opinion, is unfair. I understand the temptation of making the wealthy landowner the villain here, but in actuality Zulich is looking out for his own best interest. And why shouldn’t he? He has never promised us anything.
City hall, on the other hand, has broken a contract. They have betrayed the citizens who trusted their government to work as hard as they were. To invest as much. To be as driven.
I’m not sure that this faith can ever be recovered, and I don’t know where we will go from here.
What I do know, is that I have seen what this community can do when motivated. I have witnessed the strength of the individual citizen and the tenacity and hard work they are capable of. If I were the local government, I’d be very concerned about hurting a neighbourhood with such a dedicated and fierce population who are all hungry for change and running very short on patience.
We will remain united under the cause the city has abandoned. The covenant between the citizens and their government goes both ways. We have done our work, delivered on our word, and we know, at the end of the day, it is not the corporation or the developer that owns city hall. The government has forgotten this. It is time for the citizens to refresh their memory.