BY RICK PUSIAK
A proposal for a downtown convention centre created through a public-private partnership does not have the support of a standing committee of the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation Board.
Vista Hospitality, the owners of the property formerly known as the City Centre Mall had hoped for municipal co-operation in creating a convention centre at the site of the former Eaton?s store.
Development Board chair John Caruso said staff found the success rate of convention centre is other cities such as London and Hamilton has not been great, although a convention centre is a good idea and a public-private partnership has some value in terms of getting a convention centre in place at a minimal cost.
In places where convention centres have been built totally at municipal expense and run by the city that they are in, the facilities lose money.
?There?s not one that makes a profit,? said Caruso.
?This (the Vista proposal) was a way to get a convention centre at a minimal cost to the taxpayer while having the private sector run it, so (there would be) no ongoing operating expense. But the tourist industry in Sudbury was not prepared to support public sector investment in a private sector activity.?
Caruso said members of hospitality and tourism industry were consulted in recent months.
What basically is preventing the project from getting unanimous support is a lack of hotel rooms.
?If they had said to us, listen, we think we should do this?it?s a good investment by the City of Greater Sudbury to put some money on the table, taxpayers money, to lever this activity I think we clearly would have come back to council with a different report,? said Caruso.
?But without them being there, it?s not fair to them to recommend that public money go in support of an initiative that could have a negative impact on their business.?
Caruso said Vista?s position is that if you build it they will come.
?But the hoteliers also know, and we know, that the beautiful convention facility in Hamilton runs a huge deficit annually. And the city is on the hook to pay for that,? said the chair.
But he added the broader issue becomes a question of spending taxpayers? money to create a facility that is going to potentially compete against those who are going to pay the taxes.
?Vista may decide to proceed anyway, and I hope they do,? said Caruso.
?But from our perspective, what we were asked to do was to evaluate the prudence of a city investment and it?s pretty hard in the face of all the hoteliers not supporting it.?
He said it?s pretty hard to invest in that type of infrastructure when a municipality is doing zero-based budgeting for the past 12 years.
?To undertake projects like that it takes a fair degree of vision and risk on the part of politicians,? said Caruso.
?And I would suggest that it hasn?t been there. It?s not only a convention centre, we don?t have a performing arts centre either. We don?t have a soft seat theatre for the symphony to perform in.?
Aging roads, sewer and water lines need to be replaced as well.
?You?ve got to make sure you have the basic services covered before you suggest that we go out and buy a new car,? said Caruso.
He qualified his comments however, by stating that it is not out of the realm of possibility that one day a convention centre will be built in this city.
?But a lot of things have to happen first,? said Caruso.
?One of them is a new deal for cities to generate revenue, tax structure.
Vista Hospitality has dedicated more than $2 million for phase one of a renovation project that will include a makeover of the entire Elm Street façade as well as complete exterior and interior renovations to the Ramada Inn.
Phase one is said to be a small part of eventual construction that will make the mall ?the jewel of downtown Sudbury.?