It makes no sense to build an arena development on The Kingsway and build a convention centre downtown, says the man leading the fight to stop a casino being built in Greater Sudbury, and a report he and a group of supporters paid for backs that up.
Tom Fortin says the economics of building the Kingsway Entertainment District haven't been properly analyzed in terms of the impact it will have on other areas of the city.
Fortin, who confirmed at a news conference Tuesday morning he will be appealing the rezoning of The Kingsway property to allow for the arena and casino, said he an other businesses paid for a analysis of the plan, conducted by a firm called urbanMetrics.
The company has decades of experience in analyzing municipal economics, including in Sudbury, and was used by the province to offer expert opinion when gambling was legalized in the 1990s.
While the report covers some familiar ground – the fact most casino patrons will be local and the argument whether the 250 new jobs at the casino will be offset by job losses elsewhere – the report also questions the economics of building a convention centre downtown and the community arena on The Kingsway.
"Why would we have a need for a convention centre downtown, the Synergy Centre?” Fortin said. “It makes no sense. The best thing would be to have the convention centre attached to the arena, so for extra large events, we can use the arena surface. (Otherwise) we lose the economic viability of a convention centre downtown."
The Kingsway site would also draw people away from the new library and art gallery he said, which are already ambitious projects.
"Look, we're a community of 160,000 people. Do we need a standalone art gallery?” he said.
What the art gallery and library need are the arena/convention centre close by "so we get cross traffic between these things," Fortin argued.
While much focus of the casino/arena debate has been on the impact downtown, Fortin said the biggest loser is arguably Chelmsford, which is losing the 200 jobs at the Slots facility, as well as its best argument for four-laning MR35.
"That's 1,000 cars a day going out to (the Slots),” he said. “Is there any reason to four-lane (MR35) anymore? It's going to change things substantially for Chelmsford. And when you think about it, how is this development going to help someone in Capreol?"
The urbanMetrics report was critical of the PricewaterhouseCoppers analysis of the project, which ranked parking as one of the top priorities for the new facility to succeed. It said the PWC report was too “high level,” and a deeper analysis would have found that downtown could offer parking comparable to The Kingsway site.
"The proposed Kingsway Entertainment District has many economic drawbacks for the city and it's likely that its economic and financial costs will outweigh its benefits," Fortin said, citing the report's conclusion.
"These are the people who know what they are talking about ... When the city is going to spend $100 million of taxpayer's money, we have to be conscious of the impacts this development is going to have on the rest of the community."
Jeff MacIntyre, of the downtown business improvement association, Downtown Sudbury, said the costs of building and maintaining new infrastructure for The Kingsway site will offset any new tax revenue the city will generate. While an advocate for downtown, MacIntyre argued that several sites in the city would have been better.
"We could have chosen several locations across the city, none would be as bad a planning decision as where we've chosen," he said. "Yeah, it might survive out there. The reality is, if we're spending $100 million, plus $800,000 per year (in operating costs), we should be looking at what the benefit is to the entire community, not just downtown, not just The Kingsway property owners, and not just the 5,000 people who might attend a Wolves game.
"We're not building this just for people who go to Wolves games. We're building this for the economic stability of the entire Greater Sudbury region."
Tuesday's news conference was held days before the planning meetings set for March 26 and March 28 for public hearings on the re-zonings needed for the project to proceed.
Part of the reason for commissioning the urbanMetrics report, Fortin said, was to have a "professional" opinion on their side when their zoning appeals are heard.
"I'm not an economist," he said. "You can only have a professional opinion in court."
Another news conference will be held next week, he added, in advance of the planning meetings.
The full copy of the urbanMetrics report can be found here.