Although the Kingsway Entertainment District’s grand opening is still three years away, Greater Sudbury city council wants to get an early start on repurposing the existing downtown arena.
During Tuesday’s city council meeting, the city’s elected officials voted in favour of a motion that sets the wheels in motion to make the best use of the 70-year-old building or its property.
The motion, presented by Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, asks city staff to “present a plan for Council’s approval in the first quarter of 2022 that recommends how best to ensure the existing Community Arena and/or the property on which it resides, fully contributes to downtown renewal efforts, and sustains community vibrancy that includes, among other more technical steps, a plan for extensive public consultation.”
Rather than wait until the KED opens in 2024 and the downtown arena sits vacant, Kirwan told his colleagues that now’s the time to get an early jump on things to ensure they’re ready.
“We’re directing staff to bring back a plan, simply a plan, that will include extensive public consultation on how to best repurpose the existing community arena, and it could be anything,” he said.
“All this motion is doing is saying that if we have to begin repurposing the arena in 2024, we’re going to need a business case presented at the end of 2023 for the 2024 budget.”
By moving forward on this now, he said the city will have approximately a year of “extensive public consultation” before making a decision, which whatever city council comes out of the Oct. 24, 2022, municipal election will have to take care of.
“The downtown is important to all of us,” Leduc said, suggesting the space might be used for a Greater Sudbury version of Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, or potentially as housing.
“We all know housing is needed in this city, and any type of development like that to help the foot traffic downtown, to help the businesses, that’s only a positive thing.”
The chief criticism Kirwan and Leduc faced during Tuesday’s debate was that the downtown arena should have been better investigated before the KED was voted on. Although ultimately supporting the motion, Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland said it “feels like a bit of an afterthought.”
The following city councillors voted in favour of the motion: Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre, Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Sizer.
The following city councillors voted against the motion: Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier and Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini.
These three opponents argued that now’s not the time to look at this, with Montpellier noting that there are other municipal arenas worth considering. Signoretti cited competing interests the city currently faces during 2022 budget deliberations, for which city administration’s initial-draft budget already proposes a tax increase greater than they’d anticipated.
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann and Mayor Brian Bigger were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
This was the second city council meeting Bigger has missed in a row, and his office clarified these absences have been the result of an “emergency family crisis.”
Sudbury Community Arena long talked about
Tuesday’s discussion regarding Kirwan’s motion started with a debate about whether the Kingsway Entertainment District should be allowed to be brought up for discussion.
This debate was sparked by Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer, who chaired the meeting and said his intention was to keep the debate strictly about the Sudbury Community Arena.
The downtown arena’s future is deeply intertwined with discussions regarding the Kingsway Entertainment District, and its renovation has been long proposed as an alternative to the project.
A divided city council voted in favour of the Kingsway Entertainment District’s location in 2017 and has reaffirmed this marginal support ever since, all the way up to their Sept. 28 decision to see site preparation work commence by Nov. 29.
This proposed project by architecture firm 3rdLine.Studio is a reimagination of what the Sudbury Community Arena could be transformed into.
The firm said renovating and expanding the existing arena would be 40 per cent cheaper than building a new arena on The Kingsway, whose leftover capital could be used on other municipal projects.
An affidavit sworn by city solicitor and clerk Eric Labelle in relation to the Minnow Lake Restoration Group’s legal action against the KED outlines some of the latest efforts of city council to restore the existing arena.
A Sept. 8, 2020, motion by Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland and Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti sought to study a complete renovation of the Sudbury Community Arena. This motion was defeated 6-6.
The motion was reconsidered at the July 14, 2021 council meeting, was defeated 4-7 and “sought to advance the study of an alternative to the decision of locating the event centre on the Kingsway that had been made by council in 2017.”
In June of this year, McCausland presented two motions to city council that sought to further analyze the modernization of the Sudbury Community Arena, which were both defeated 7-6.
These efforts, however, sought to do something with the existing arena instead of developing the KED, while the motion adopted this week seeks to do something with the existing arena now that work at the KED is already underway.
Sudbury.com recently connected with world-renowned architect Jason McLennan, who was born and raised in Sudbury and offered his insights on environmentally friendly options for the downtown arena.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.