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Junction East cast into uncertainty by new city council

Roughly half of the newly elected Greater Sudbury city council appears to support the Junction East Cultural Hub, but it’s largely contingent on funding from senior levels of government

After receiving a decisive 11-2 vote of support from city council in June, the Junction East Cultural Hub now appears to be on shaky ground with the newly elected city council.

Drawing from past votes and where those elected to city council on Oct. 24 say they currently stand, the new central downtown library/art gallery now appears to be less secure, with support standing at:

  • Yes: 7
  • No: 5
  • Uncertain: 1

Although the “yes” side maintains a narrow majority required for the project to proceed, many of them said their support is contingent on the city obtaining funding from senior levels of government.

A similar thing could be said for the Valley East Twin Pad Multipurpose Sports Complex. Although city council approved the project during 2022 budget deliberations, work has not proceeded due to a stipulation that $20 million of its funding comes from senior levels of government, which has yet to be secured.

The Junction East Cultural Hub is estimated to cost $98.5 million – a figure Ian Wood, the city’s director of Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Citizen Services, described as “hard-capped.” Although the tendering process will be the true “litmus test,” he’s confident the city worked enough wiggle room into the budget that they can adjust things to hit the $98.5-million budget.

The budget approved by city council in June includes up to $37.2 million in “potential external funding,” which the city has yet to secure, up to $3.1-million in contributions from partners, up to $68 million in debt (already secured) and a withdrawal of up to $1 million from reserves.

Project costs include:

  • Building construction: $53.6 million
  • Site and landscape: $2.7 million
  • Soft costs (fees, furniture, equipment, permits): $10.4 million
  • Contingencies: $14 million
  • Enhanced sustainability option: $6.6 million
  • Enhanced accessibility option: $4.7 million
  • Public art recommendation: $700,000
  • Other project costs (administration and land acquisition): $4.1 million
  • HST: $1.7 million

Mayor-elect Paul Lefebvre said his campaign platform included “sustainable growth” under which the city needs to “invest in our community to attract new investments, business, residents and jobs.”

A modern art gallery and public library are both part of this potential investment, but he said the $98.5-million cost is too great and needs to be “thoroughly reviewed.”

“There is no doubt that by looking for efficiencies and collaborations, and by involving other levels of government, we can work together to build these amenities sustainably and for a cost taxpayers can afford, just as other cities have done,” he said, adding the city needs to proceed with projects such as this without borrowing any additional money. 

The following is how the newly elected batch of city councillors said they stand on proceeding with the Junction East Cultural Hub at latest update:

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti - Yes, but…

Although he voted in favour of the project in June, Signoretti told Sudbury.com he has “been more concerned with the price tag of this project.”

The city needs to find a way to reduce the capital cost of the project, he said, and conversations and commitment from both senior levels of government need to be sought for both the project’s capital and operating costs.

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini - No 

While Vagnini has persistently declined Sudbury.com requests for comment in recent months, he voted against the project in June.

Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier - Unsure

Although he voted in favour of the project in June, Montpellier said his final vote on the project will depend on the results of public consultations, project details, grand possibilities and final costs are known.

Ward 4 Coun.-elect Paulin Fortin - No

Fortin is a “hard ‘no’” on this project due to its costs.

Ward 5 Coun.-elect Mike Parent - Not now

“I will be supporting a pause of the Junction East until we can understand how inflation has impacted the project costs and what the implications will be on the municipal tax levy,” Parent said, adding that he also wants to know how the long-term operating costs will impact taxes.

Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre - Yes

This is an “important project for our city,” Lapierre said, citing it as an asset renewal opportunity for the city’s 70-year-old central library, is a positive use of taxpayer dollars and will help attract other services and investors downtown to make Greater Sudbury the “Hub of the North.”

Ward 7 Coun.-elect Natalie Labbée - Not now

“The idea can be revisited once inflation tapers off,” Labbée said, noting there are many more necessary concerns to focus on.

Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer - Yes

Sizer has not returned Sudbury.com’s recent requests for comment on Junction East, but voted in favour of the project in June.

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh - Yes

“The Junction is for everyone, with no barriers… no physical barriers, no social barriers, no economic barriers,” McIntosh said, adding the city anticipates significant investment from other levels of government.

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier - Yes

On the basis that the project “includes significant investment from senior levels of government,” Cormier pledged his support.

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc - No

The project is too expensive and lacks a return on investment, Leduc said in opposition to it.

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann - Yes

“My position has not changed,” Landry-Altmann told Sudbury.com this week. “This project design incorporates enhanced accessibility for everyone and meets our Community Energy and Emissions Plan policies.” She approves the project at its quoted cost, with grant applications and federal and provincial funding expected to offset the municipal expense.

Meanwhile, work is progressing on Junction East, following the direction of city council.

An Enbridge gas line was recently relocated from the Junction East property next to the Sudbury Theatre Centre between Shaughnessy Street and Paris Street, and geotechnical work recently took place at a proposed parking lot for the project. 

Still conceptual, additional work taking place being the scenes to bring the design to a stage where the project is able to be brought to tender. This process is expected to continue until mid-November, at which time the city team behind the effort will develop a tender package for release early in the new year.

There are four prequalified bidders for this project from a total of 10 companies to take initial interest in the project. They include:

  • EllisDon Corporation (Mississauga)
  • Bird Construction Group (Mississauga)
  • Aquicon Construction Co. Ltd. (Brampton)
  • PCL Constructors Northern Ontario Inc. (Sudbury)

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