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Council digs into Project Now proposal - Bigger clarifies that 3rdLine.Studio are not proponents

Proposed downtown arena renovation points to potential $40 million in savings
Project now

Greater Sudbury city council got a closer look at Project Now on Oct. 6, a proposed downtown arena renovation developed by 3rdLine.Studio that vows $40 million in savings when compared to the planned Kingsway Entertainment District.

Tim James and Angele Dmytruk of 3rdLine.Studio met with council via video conference Tuesday night to provide an in depth look at the plan and take questions from the mayor and council.

En masse, council was highly complimentary of the design and concept put forward by the Project Now team, but there were a number of questions raised following the presentation.

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti was one of the two councillors, along with Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland, who brought the Project Now proposal to the council table as a members' motion, asking that staff take a closer look and determine if the project was viable.

"In the build it's anywhere from $55 to $60 million but then there's also a parking structure that would run anywhere to about $30 million, if you add the two together you're getting to $90 million," said Signoretti. "I know there's been some comments that maybe right now we don't need a parking structure."

James explained that the parking structure was not a core component to the project, and explained that it has been costed at close to $35 million, with $18 million accounting for the parking structure and $17 million allocated to attached commercial space.

"It's really a response to a request for information made from the city in the fall of 2019, as we got working on this project we thought that we could demonstrate that RFI response by showing a parking structure that was a good urban fit, that was located on lands already owned by the city and zoned appropriately and could be clad and dressed with commercial components of the project," said James. 

"If our strategy and desire is to save $40 million then I think we have to recognize that existing parking in the downtown core off peak hours is sufficient to support the event centre and we should take advantage of the fact that we don't need to build that infrastructure and pay for additional infrastructure to achieve that $40 million savings."

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc leaned heavily on the 2015 CBRE report on the costs of renovating the downtown arena when questioning James about Project Now.

"This report indicates back in March of 2015 that any expansion to the building would have extensive geotechnical investigation required to determine the effect of the new construction on the existing structure. Have you taken that into account of the $55 million?"

James stated that 3rdLine has looked into the geotechnical aspects of the renovation, touching on the fact that sensitive soil conditions exist throughout much of the city's downtown.

"We understand how to work with both shallow and deep foundations and it's routine to have detailed geotechnical investigations completed prior to the construction of any large building," said James.

Leduc followed up by asking about the state of the arena's roof, which city staff has recommended is in need of a $360,000 repair.

"Are we replacing the roof whatsoever or are we just leaving the existing roof?"

In short, James said that they would be looking at addressing all components of the arena and that they would look into re-roofing, and "ensuring that the existing structure, where required was enhanced and reinforced."

Mayor Brian Bigger was deliberate in his comments to note that 3rdLine.Studio are not proponents and that Project Now at this stage is ideas and suggestions that the architecture firm would like to see developed. 

"There would be an entire RFP process and we're not at that point," said Bigger. "Just to clarify, the overall proposal that we've seen tonight, yes the numbers indicate roughly $55 million not including HST, however we're also informed of the parking spots referred to frequently plus space for retail or commercial would be as much as $35 million."

Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer, who spent five years working at the Sudbury Arena and has been on the record indicating that he would like to see council push forward on their decision to build the Kingsway Entertainment District. Sizer brought up the inability to host large events at the downtown arena due to structural issues.

"I know in speaking with promoters there are certain requirements for us to host larger events and one of the things...the steel girders are 45 feet high, they slope from 45 feet high at centre ice to 32 feet at the rink boards, industry requirements are a minimum 45 feet high across the entire building," said Sizer.

"We've talked about different issues, load in load out, green rooms, dressing rooms, hydro requirements ... many of those have been addressed, but the one we can't address is the fact that right at centre ice our score clock is trimmed at 30 feet. In the new build and industry requirements of 45 feet would mean raising the score clock to get it out of the way for events to occur there. We're looking at more than just a hockey arena and that's one issue with steel beams that we currently have that we can not adjust and can not change, and it provides us a shortfall as to entertaining larger events that could come to our building. They just simply can't with the type of equipment they use and large screens they provid. The capacity is not there."

Bigger echoed Sizer's concerns about the roof height, explaining that it has been discussed in the past. The mayor also noted the challenges with the foundation that the building is built upon.

"A previous engineer with the city, I was in conversation with him, if these are challenging soils in the downtown, how was the arena built and my understanding from that short conversation is that the arena is actually similar to the Flour Mill, is floating on logs; there were not piles that were driven into the ground as maybe current technology and so significantly altering the building it's something that engineers and architects would have to consider," said Bigger. 

Arguably the most vocal proponent for the Kingsway Entertainment District on council has been Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, who provided his own cost breakdown of the KED versus the Project Now proposal, stating that the downtown renovation would in fact be more expensive, while also explaining that arena and event centre design could very well change in the post-pandemic world.

"I guess another advantage to building on the Kingsway is everything is going to be built to post-coronavirus standards. Things are going to have to change in terms of constructing large event centres like this and we haven't even got to the design phase yet because we haven't issued an RFP," said Kirwan.

"We have anticipated a maximum of $100 million for this project, but it's more likely closer to $80 million if not less. We focused a lot on the savings of $40 million. We don't know if it's going to be $40 million and in actual fact it may be $20 million. The downtown renovation is probably going to require $3 million a year in debt financing, that's fine. Even if the arena on The Kingsway was $100 million that would result in a debt financing of about $5 million a year. However it's being built as part of a hotel and casino complex and they're going to generate about $3 million in additional tax revenue, so the net cost to build new on The Kingsway is going to be about $2 million to the tax levy and that doesn't count any additional tax revenue to the 140 acres that are going to be surrounding the KED."

Mayor Bigger threw his support behind building new, stating that it is what the citizens of Greater Sudbury deserve.

"It was clarified by councillor Jakubo that it's being heard in the public that we can't afford new and I have a challenge with that," said Bigger. "Most people are not even aware of what our budget is, of what our capital budgets are and what our financing situation is. We're quite proud of our AA rating and we're proud of the financial position that we're in. I do believe, as with many others on council, that Sudburians deserve new and not necessarily a renovation."