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Kirwan: Finally a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to KED, Junction projects

The city councillor for Ward 5 says recent event centre decisions put Greater Sudbury on ‘a path forward that will see us land in a place of promise and hope for generations to come’

Four years ago, on June 27 and June 28, 2017, city council made decisions that set the groundwork for transformational change for the entire City of Greater Sudbury. It has been a long journey, filled with fierce opposition and legal challenges that were successfully defended. In fact, all of the 12 appeals to LPAT were found to be without merit, and the Superior Court of Justice ruled that there was no truth to the accusations that were made.

Despite the failings of the legal challenges, opponents continued to spread false and misleading information along with allegations of wrongdoing against some councillors in an attempt to erode public confidence in the local leadership. 

In January of this year, city council decided to take another six months to have the consultant from 2017 update his original report with all of the factual changes that have occurred over the past four years. His conclusion was that as a result of what has happened since the original decision, the Kingsway location for the new arena/event centre has become clearly and undoubtedly the one with the highest economic benefit, for the lowest cost, and the least amount of risk, compared to building downtown or renovating the current arena into an event centre.

City council subsequently made two major decisions on July 14 that will now enable us to realize the vision that the majority of us had four years ago. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have now launched our municipality on a path forward that will see us land in a place of promise and hope for generations to come.

First, we gave staff the authorization to make arrangements with our architects to develop a detailed design for the Junction East project that will incorporate the Greater Sudbury Public Library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Sudbury Theatre Centre and the Sudbury Multicultural Folk Arts Association into an iconic facility that will be one of the most spectacular of its kind in Northern Ontario. 

This detailed design will be presented to council by the end of October for final budget and timeline approvals that should see this site completed some time during 2024.

Second, city council gave delegated authority to Ian Wood, the executive director of Communications, Strategic Initiatives and Citizen Service for the city, which will allow him to work with Gateway Casinos, the hotel group, and the land developer to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the Kingsway Entertainment District (the KED) is ready for use by the end of the summer of 2024.

Site preparation is expected to begin before the end of 2021. All parties are excited and ready to work cooperatively toward this goal so that we can create one of the most remarkable facilities of its kind in the province. When it is completed, the KED will include a central community festival square surrounded by a new city-owned arena/event centre, a Starlight Gateway Casino, and what is expected to be the largest hotel/conference centre in Greater Sudbury.

All in all, this will amount to new investments of more than $300 million for both sites, with approximately half of that amount coming from the city. However, even at this early stage, over half of the debt financing for the city portion will be returning to us in the form of increased commercial taxation of the private sector partners. 

By the time we open both locations, it is expected that at least 75 per cent of our investment financing costs will be covered from new taxation. On top of this, we expect to see a net gain of at least 600 new jobs just from the KED alone, with the real potential of hundreds of other new jobs from future developments around the KED, including up to 1,000 new jobs in a proposed film and television centre that will be built right across the street from the KED.

I just want to assure all of my constituents in Ward 5, and indeed all residents of the City of Greater Sudbury, that the decisions made back in 2017 and the decisions we made during the council meeting of July 14 were made in the best long-term interests of the entire city and were done so after careful consideration of all of the facts and evidence. 

The decision to move the KED to the final part of the process was the result of a decisive 8-to-3 vote with two councillors absent. The members of council who voted in favour of the motion on July 14 include Mayor Brian Bigger, Deputy Mayor and Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyn-Landry Altman, Deputy Mayor and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer; Finance & Administration Committee Chair and Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo; Board of Health Chair and Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre, Planning Committee Chair and Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, Audit Committee Chair and Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, whose ward includes the KED. 

For the record, all of these members of council, with the exception of Coun. Leduc, who was not on council at the time, were among the 10 members of council who voted to approve the Kingsway as the preferred site for the arena/event centre on June 27, 2017. 

Two of the 10 members back in 2017, Ward 11 Coun. Lynn Reynolds and Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac did not run for re-election in 2018, but they were solid supporters of the projects.

So, in conclusion, most of the councillors who saw the vision in 2017 have maintained their commitment throughout the past four years of opposition and legal challenges. We saw what the KED and the Junction projects could do for the entire city and we have been steadfast in our support. 

I am proud to be part of the city councils that started this journey in 2017, strongly confirmed our path forward in 2021, and I definitely hope to be at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies as a member of the next city council in 2024.

Robert Kirwan is the Greater Sudbury city councillor for Ward 5.