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High drama as city council picks Kingsway for arena/events centre

After rejecting downtown, they vote 10-2 in favour of The Kingsway

In a night as full of political drama as this city has seen in years, Greater Sudbury city council voted to build new arena/events centre on land owned by businessman Dario Zulich on The Kingsway.

While that vote passed easily 10-2, most of the fireworks took place during the first vote, on the downtown location for the $80 million to $100 million project.

While three councillors had declared in favour of downtown ahead of the meeting ((Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer), and four for The Kingsway (Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan, Ward 7 Coun. Michael Jakubo and Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds), six votes were still up in the air.

Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier declared a conflict of interest at the start, because of ties he has to a proposed motorsports park as part of The Kingsway project. With 12 people voting, that created the possibility of a tie. 

Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac was the first unknown to reveal her position, saying she backed The Kingsway but still supported downtown.

She said she supports developing downtown as an arts and culture hub, but questioned why an arena had to be part of it.

“I don't believe putting the arena there will help,” Dutrisac said. “Most businesses are closed at 6 p.m. They go to the event, and then they leave.”

But Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, who also hadn't declared her preference before Tuesday, said downtown was best aligned with the city's vision. And the experts they hired confirmed that.

“I'm basing my decision on evidence and facts presented,” she said.

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier, also came out in support of downtown, as did Mayor Brian Bigger. That made for six votes for downtown, five for The Kingsway. Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said she couldn't support the Minto Street block city staff had allocated, largely because of the $11 million it would cost to buy all the land.

“That's 10 per cent of the entire cost of the project,” Landry-Altmann said.

That tied the vote at 6-6, and in municipal politics, a tie vote is the same as a no vote. Once that vote was complete, every councillor except for Signoretti and Cormier changed their vote and supported The Kingsway.

After the meeting, Mayor Brian Bigger said while he voted for downtown, he can get behind The Kingsway project. 

"Absolutely -- the vision and the whole concept of having an entertainment district is very, very exciting," Bigger said. "Now (we'll be) working in conjunction with the True North Strong group, and I thank them for all the work that they've done."

"We've seen the responses from a number of operators of hotel chains and the casino, and they see the excitement of an entertainment district. I want to make sure these things actually do happen."

Andrew Dale, who's part of the True North Strong group, was surprisingly tight-lipped after his group won the vote. 

"Tonight's for the council, right?” Dale told reporters. “We'll have statements for tomorrow.

"We're excited about the community moving forward and there's an opportunity now to build," he added, when pressed for comment. "We're certainly excited."

But Jeff MacIntyre, chair of the BIA who was the most visible face of the downtown supporters, was clearly disappointed.

"We've bet on one developer over our entire downtown," MacIntyre said. "That's what happened tonight."

He wasn't surprised that council backed The Kingsway after downtown was rejected, because Sudburians want to see something done. And he's hoping that council's support for turning downtown into an arts and culture hub is more than just words. 

"There were a lot of promises made tonight to the downtown, to make up for what's been taken out,” he said. “We've seen promises for an art gallery, we've seen promises for a library, promises for a Synergy Centre.

"Council has a long way to go to make that back up."


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