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A preview of how next year’s city council arena debates might go

With the question of what to do with a new or renewed Sudbury Community Arena continuing into 2023, Sudbury.com reached out to the city’s elected officials for early insight on how they might handle the issue during their fresh four-year mandate
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The 71-year-old Sudbury Community Arena is seen in the city’s downtown core.

As we enter a new year, the question of what’s to be done with the 71-year-old Sudbury Community Arena lingers in the background.

Should it be replaced with a new facility? Retrofitted? Maintained at its current state?

Last year saw the Kingsway Entertainment District balloon in cost from its original $100-million price tag to a new estimate of $215 million, effectively killing the project in council chambers.

The long talked about project was supposed to replace the aging Sudbury Arena, built in 1951. Although the aging building is reportedly “holding up quite well” for a facility of its age, it will require millions of dollars in maintenance work during the next few years.

Plus, the existing arena falls far short of its proposed replacement, which was planned not only to serve as an arena, but also a state-of-the-art events centre designed to secure the concerts and events known to bypass Sudbury’s subpar facility despite its enviable position along the Trans-Canada Highway. 

Although KED developer and Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich has repeatedly reaffirmed his “unwavering” commitment to the Nickel City, he has also commented on the need for a new arena, stating in September that the team “won’t be (at the old arena) much longer.” 

Zulich has been specific in stating the team needs a new, modern building, and not a renovated or renewed/retrofitted facility.

Sudbury.com reached out to candidates prior to the Oct. 24 civic election to see where they stood on the arena question — namely, should the city proceed with a new or renewed arena project, how should it pursue that goal, what role should the municipality play, what should the cost limit be, and where should it be located?

Sudbury.com reiterated these questions to the newly elected batch of Greater Sudbury elected officials this week to gain a greater understanding of how the arena question might roll out during their fresh four-year mandate.

Mayor Paul Lefebvre told Sudbury.com in late December that his stance hasn’t changed since the election cycle. At the time, he said the cost to any arena project must remain within the budget already allocated.

The city borrowed $90 million for the KED, of which the city has already spent approximately $5.2 million

“It should be downtown, and the cost is whatever funding we have available that we set aside,” he said recently of the $84.8 million remaining in borrowed funds. “We don’t have the ability ... to be borrowing more money from the market at the rate it is now.”

While the city secured a record-low interest rate of 2.416 per cent for $200 million in debt in 2020 (of which $90 million was for the KED), rates have since shot up. The Bank of Canada policy interest rate as of Dec. 7 is 4.25 per cent.

The following is what the balance of city council has had to say at the latest update. Some responded to Sudbury.com’s latest inquiry in late December, while others commented priori to the election. These timelines have been noted.

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti

Signoretti is in agreement with Lefebvre’s take on the arena project, in that whatever takes place should be done downtown and using the money already borrowed.

“If it makes more economic sense ... to renovate the existing arena, then I think we need to look at that, and we shouldn’t close any doors,” he told Sudbury.com in late December.

The community has been waiting for the city to do something for years, and Signoretti said something needs to finally be done.

“We want to make sure we know what we’re getting into cost-wise, all logistics, before we pull the trigger, but I think something needs to be done in this council term.”

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini

No comment.

Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier

Montpellier didn’t respond to this week’s inquiry, but said during the election cycle that his stance hadn’t changed since the beginning.

As he has all along, Montpellier promotes the renovation of the existing downtown arena using federal and provincial green energy grants — programs he said have been used successfully by other municipalities 

Ward 4 Coun. Pauline Fortin

“The last thing we want to do is rekindle the division and hostility that the KED created so let’s take it one step at a time and see what the pending arena report has to say,” Fortin told Sudbury.com in late December, making reference to a report outlining options for an arena project city administration is currently preparing.

“If feasible, perhaps a two-thirds vote from council for whatever direction is taken could also be considered to create a true mandate and avoid the division,” she said, adding that although she’d like to see a referendum take place, it might not be feasible between elections.

Ward 5 Coun. Michel Parent

Parent told Sudbury.com in late December that he’d like to see the results of a report on options for an arena/events centre currently being drafted by city administration before making any decisions.

“I believe it would be prudent to wait and review this report and remain objective before I take a position on whether I support a location or a new or renovated arena,” he said. “This topic has created so much division in our community and I hope once we receive this report in June that we can achieve consensus on an option and move this project forward.”

Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre 

Greater Sudbury should “100 per cent have an events centre to host large concert events, sporting events and so much more,” Lapierre said in late December, citing the fact Greater Sudbury is the largest municipality in Northern Ontario and promotes itself as the “hub” of the north.

“This event centre must be one that is state of the art, to accommodate the new technologies and equipment required by performers and event organizers. Our current event centre no longer has any of these, and I don’t believe that a repair or upgrade will suffice.”

In support of a new event centre, Lapierre said residents in his ward agree there is a need, but don’t support a downtown location.

“I believe there is a way forward to find where this event centre should be located as well as identify our needs, then assess that cost,” he said. “Once that information is had, the discussion can be had for a final decision.”

Ward 7 Natalie Labbée

Although Labbée didn’t respond in late December, she said during election season that she was waiting on city administration’s report on arena options before making any firm commitments. 

This report has yet to be released.

That said, she clarified that she prefers a downtown location.

“We have a lot of work to do in changing the climate for even more people to consider (downtown) a safe and accessible place to venture,” she added. “Sudbury is not alone in that. Most cities are struggling with the dire reality of it in their downtown cores.

City finances are also an issue, she said, clarifying a figure “considerably less” than the KED would be “more palatable.” 

Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer

The city can’t afford to build a new facility on its own, Sizer told Sudbury.com in late December, adding that he doesn’t support borrowing additional money for the project.

“Would I consider a  private/public partnership to build new?” he asked. “Absolutely.”

As someone who has worked at the Sudbury Community Arena in the past, he said no scope of renovation will meet the requirements to host future events, and that a new building is needed.

“At this point, without a new facility, I would complete the capital repairs required immediately and then spend the minimum on interior upgrades, such as revamped rest rooms and refurbished dressing rooms and facelifts that are reasonable in cost,” he said. 

“Trying to retrofit the Sudbury Community Arena in a manner it will attract today’s major concerts and events is analogous to restoring a 1951 Ford. New tires, new paint, new interior, but it still does not provide all the amenities nor does it perform like a 2022 Ford. It’s still a 1951 vehicle.

“So, the arena remains at its current site, minimum dollars invested in retrofits and events and attractions will increasingly continue to bypass our fair city.”

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh

McIntosh was unavailable in late December, but offered a statement via her campaign website earlier this year:

“We still have a 70-year old arena that has needed expensive emergency repairs, and was not built for the types of sporting and entertainment experiences that people want these days.”

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier

Cormier didn’t respond in late December, but indicated during the campaign cycle that he was waiting on the results of a municipal report outlying potential options for an arena project.

There are “pros and cons” when it comes to a new build and renovation, but Cormier said he’d need more information before making a decision.

Waiting on the municipal report regarding the downtown arena, Cormier said it’ll be up to the new city council to make a decision.

“These are expensive projects, as we’ll need accurate costing, public input and reliable information from all involved if we revisit this idea again.”

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc

Leduc didn’t respond to Sudbury.com’s inquiry in late December, but said during campaign season that he supports the construction of a new facility. 

The city needs to “build a new arena that’s going to be the proper size so that we can have a great entertainment centre in the heart of Sudbury somewhere,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s downtown, The Kingsway, South End, wherever council decides to put it.”

The $84.8 million that remains in borrowed funds for the KED should remain invested in an arena project, he said. 

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann

No comment.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.