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Sudbury Community Arena ‘holding up quite well’

Although the 70-year-old Sudbury Community Arena has its challenges and will require millions of dollars in renovations within the coming years, it is expected to continue serving its purpose in the foreseeable future
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The 70-year-old Sudbury Community Arena is seen in the city’s downtown core.

With the 70-year-old Sudbury Community Arena’s long-planned replacement facility cancelled via last week’s death of the Kingsway Entertainment District, how’s the “old girl” doing?

This is the name lovingly given to the downtown building by Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, who has maintained, “The old girl’s got nothing wrong with her yet,” and there was no viable reason for a new arena/events centre to replace it on The Kingsway.

The long-discussed and approved Kingsway Entertainment District plan was shot down by a unanimous city council earlier this week in response to its cost more than doubling to $215 million.

With that plan now dead, the city has been left with an aging arena in the city’s downtown core.

“The old arena’s holding up quite well,” city arenas manager Jody Cameron told Sudbury.com. “We have over the years been working our maintenance plans each year and doing any repairs that are needed.”

Several renovations have taken place in recent years, he said, including a partial roof replacement, HVAC work and structural work on the building’s corners.

The city had a building condition assessment completed in 2019 by Markham-based Accent Building Sciences, which highlighted various future needs totalling approximately $6.5-million in renovations required within 10 years of the report’s release.

Financial figures such as this need to be taken with a grain of salt, Cameron said, noting the report came out before the pandemic threw a wallop of uncertainty into the mix. Since that time, for example, both the KED and Junction East Cultural Hub roughly doubled in cost.

Site inspections were conducted from June 24-26, 2019, revealing foundation walls “generally noted to be in good condition,” a rink slab with “minor cracking” and a roof structure “to be generally in fair condition,” among various other observations. 

A prevailing theme in the report is that various components of the building are in “fair condition,” and several things need to be renovated and/or upgraded. With all public buildings to be fully barrier-free by 2025, several non-compliant areas in the building will need to be changed.

As for the building’s lifespan, Cameron said it’s difficult to provide an estimate.

“I can state there’s no indication that the arena will fail any time soon, and we continue to work our maintenance plans and continue to repair anything that needs to be repaired.”

Mayor Brian Bigger clarified while there are no urgent repairs or maintenance matters on the horizon, it’s still a 70-year-old building with “challenges.”

“It was purpose-built for the use of the time in 1950,” he said. “The events centre was being designed to be purpose-built for the needs of today and the anticipated needs of the future for the next 70 years.

“At some point in time there will likely be a push for some additional capital works in the building, but it’s something that the new council will have the opportunity to decide in the new term.”

Although he agrees with Montpellier’s assessment the arena will continue to serve its purpose, Bigger clarified the KED was always about moving the city forward. As the requirements laid out in its request for proposal documents outlined, the KED would have been much better equipped to host large-scale events than the current downtown arena.

Further example of the buildings’ difference comes in past reports. The 2019 building condition assessment of the Sudbury Community Arena estimated the 88,630-square-foot building’s replacement cost (to rebuild the existing arena as-is) would be between $21.9 and $26.7 million. Last year’s PricewaterhouseCoopers report noted a modernized Sudbury Community Arena would increase its square footage by 92,300 and cost up to $128.6 million. For added context regarding cost escalation since that time, the report also noted the KED would cost $113.8 million, and it ended up hitting $215 million.

Now that the KED is dead, Bigger said, “Some of the larger acts will continue to drive by Sudbury because of the lower ceiling, the rigging requirements. There are a number of elements of construction that are better if you build it from scratch and not renovate to get them.”

As the PricewaterhouseCoopers report also clarified, Bigger noted that renovating an existing building to get modern elements is “an expensive option.”

It remains to be seen what will become of the KED now that city council has cancelled the municipality's planned involvement. The project’s private partners, including Gateway Casinos and Genesis Hospitality (hotel partner), have yet to respond to Sudbury.com’s inquiries regarding their intentions.

Earlier this week, developer Dario Zulich offered an ambiguous statement via media release:

“The KED was never about just building an arena. It was about making this city greater and we are never going to stop. Now we pivot...”

In April, Zulich, who also owns the Sudbury Wolves hockey team, clarified that regardless of what happens with the KED, the team would “never leave Sudbury.”

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