Despite recent concern to the contrary, the Junction East project has continued inching forward, with several members of city council reaffirming their support during tonight’s meeting.
“Clearly, council is solidly behind the Junction East project,” Mayor Brian Bigger said afterward, of the new library and art gallery slated to be built on Shaughnessy Street in downtown Sudbury.
“My read from council tonight is that council is fully supportive and quite enthusiastic from the significant majority of council for the Junction East project to proceed.”
The project had been called to question in some eyes due to Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc tabling a motion that requested a report from city staff on the potential implications of putting it on hold.
On Monday, Le Ledo Inc. cited Leduc’s motion as contributing to uncertainty around the project that resulted in them backing out of a private renewal of the nearby Ledo Hotel building.
Following a lengthy discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, Leduc both withdrew his motion and apologized to his colleagues for it.
The motion’s intent was not to stop Junction East, he said, “just to have a look at what the financial implications would be involved if we stopped the Junction” and “to make sure this project moves forward as it should.”
Project proponents’ response to Leduc’s motion has been swift.
In advance of tonight’s meeting, several key stakeholders penned a letter to city council urging them to proceed.
Signatories included Greater Sudbury Public Library chair Michael Bellmore, Art Gallery of Sudbury co-chair Paula Gouveia, Sudbury Theatre Centre chair Patricia Meehan and Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association chair Bela Ravi.
“More than ever, we see the opportunities of collaboration and partnership multiplying, and we can’t wait to get started,” they wrote. “Being in the same building will foster volunteerism, help each other, and enhance the public service offerings of each organization.
“We know Junction East will dramatically enhance public service, arts and social service programs for youth, seniors, new citizens, workers, the homebound, community groups and community action networks, welcoming and including all who visit or make Greater Sudbury home.”
During tonight’s meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said he was “insulted” Leduc’s motion came forward to begin with. He also took umbrage with Leduc’s comments about the city’s downtown core.
During his presentation, Leduc cited the homelessness crisis and security issues downtown as points of concern relevant to the project. He also relayed that he has heard from residents from throughout the city who said, “You can build whatever you want downtown, I’m still not going to go there.”
Meanwhile, the Junction East project has continued inching along, with city staff following city council’s direction to proceed with what was originally priced as a $46.5-million project.
City executive director of Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Citizen Services Ian Wood walked the city’s elected officials through some of the latest details on the project tonight, but promised much a much greater analysis in March.
By that time, he said he’ll be able to present “a very detailed review of the project, including costs and timeline and what to expect with this project moving forward.”
In April, the city expects to proceed with a detailed design and establish an Accessibility Working Group to ensure the facility goes “above and beyond” the Ontario Accessibility Act.
Junction East has recently received a Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Municipal Fund grant of $62,000 to support a detailed feasibility study on carbon neutrality.
The goal out of this study, Wood said, is for the building to be net zero when it comes to both energy and carbon outputs.
Although Junction East remains on track, the nearby Junction West effort remains on pause.
This half of an overall project called “The Junction” would carry a projected $66-million price tag and is expected to feature a large rentable convention and performance centre alongside a private hotel.
The conference/convention space has been planned at 60,500 square feet and advertised by the city as being the largest of its kind in Northern Ontario.
This project has been put on hold since the onset of the pandemic, around which time staff was directed to examine the potential integration of a World Trade Centre.
“We are putting together the elements of a plan to restart the project,” Wood said, adding that it will require a review and updating of the 2018 business plan with a new construction cost estimate. Junction West will not resume without council’s approval.
“The timing is maybe a little premature for Junction West at this point in time, but I’d say we’re still hopeful that we’ll be able to find partners and work with and develop a conference and hotel facility in the downtown,” Bigger said after tonight’s meeting.
The city’s net cost to date for Junction East has been $1,341,422, while the net cost to date for Junction West has been $787,528.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.