The grand opening for the Kingsway Entertainment District is now expected to take place sometime in 2025.
This, according to the City of Greater Sudbury’s latest update to city council, which they debated for approximately two hours during tonight’s meeting without any resolutions coming forward.
Near the debate’s mid-way point, Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre called to question much of the lengthy discussion, which arises just about every time the KED comes up.
During these debates, some councillors typically raise ideas such as cancelling the project or putting it on pause. Tonight, Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini suggesting the project be put on pause “until we can see the light of day.”
Among the key issues raised by Vagnini and others on council is the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnow Lake Restoration Group’s legal challenge and an OPP investigation into an alleged attempted bribe related to a 2017 site selection vote.
The latter two of these points of uncertainty were cited by Gateway Casinos as their reasons for putting their investment into the project on pause, which delayed site preparation work which was expected to begin on Nov. 29. This is the chief cause of the grand opening delay.
Although various concerns were expressed by the city’s elected officials tonight, Lapierre pointed out that no motions were brought forward and that no decision points were made in response to what was an information-only report.
“If that’s what a councillor wants, please bring a motion forward,” he said, adding that this approach can prove constructive as it results in a vote of city council.
“This going back and forth and talking about it for an hour and a half every meeting is not productive.”
From that, the debate continued for almost another hour.
The report itself outlined a new anticipated timeline for the KED, which includes:
- The issuing of a design-build request for proposals later this month
- The issuing of a venue operator request for proposals later this month
- Begin negotiating with partners on terms of a project completion agreement later this month
- Council approval of a venue operator early in the second quarter
- Council approval of a project completion agreement early in the third quarter, subject to the event centre design-build request for proposal
- Council approval of the final budget, subject to the event centre design-build request for proposal results early in the third quarter
- Begin site preparation early in the third quarter, subject to project completion agreement approval
- The beginning of event centre construction in the fourth quarter of 2022
- Road and intersection construction, plus stormwater management pond in the second quarter of 2023
- The event centre grand opening in 2025
The parameters of the project completion agreement will be determined in the next three to four months by the project’s partners, city director of engineering services David Shelsted told city council.
These partners include Genesis Hospitality (hotel), Gateway Casinos, the developer and the City of Greater Sudbury, and will set in stone the legally binding build commitment a handful of the city’s elected officials have been advocating for the city to have in place for some time.
As tonight’s report clarified, the current cost-sharing agreement is limited to site preparation work “and does not obligate each partner to build their facility.”
Gateway Casinos’ decision to put things on pause triggered a wider discussion among city staff about risk, executive director of Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Citizen Services Ian Wood told council. The goal behind the project completion agreement, he added, is “to mitigate against the exact same thing happening again.”
From as far back as city council’s initial approval of the KED in 2017, the project has been dependent on a municipal arena joining a hotel and casino at a property off The Kingsway.
The project completion agreement is also intended to guard against the possibility of all three facilities not opening at the same time.
“Nobody wants to open a brand new facility and be next to construction for 12 months,” Shelsted said.
The OPP investigation and Minnow Lake Restoration Group legal challenge linger as two uncontrolled risks the city included in their latest report to council.
Despite the city’s updated timeline, these uncontrolled risks lack defined timelines. The OPP has indicated they will not comment on the matter until their Anti-Rackets Branch has concluded their investigation. The lawsuit’s court date could be in April, however, Shelsted noted that the latest round of COVID-related lockdowns has thrown court system scheduling into uncertainty.
“We will be proceeding with site preparation while having these risks we can’t mitigate hanging over this council’s head,” Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said in expressing his concern regarding these ongoing uncertainties.
Thus far in the KED project, the City of Greater Sudbury has spent 2.99 per cent of its total budget of $100 million, including:
- $353,639 on feasibility and business case site evaluation
- $258,690 on integrated site design
- $1,662,711 on detailed site design, engineering, professional fees, external legal fees
- $580,193 on salaries
- $129,834 on basketball floor and related equipment
The project’s partners have spent $928,221.
The next big expense for the city will be approximately $700,000 for costs associated with the design-build request for proposals. This includes a compliance team that will have third-party expertise assisting with the procurement process as well as a fairness monitor in place. These costs also include the honorarium for the unsuccessful proponents of the design-build procurement process.
During tonight’s meeting, Vagnini called to question the hiring of outside consultants when there should be city staff capable of doing the work.
“This is a very significant project, quite complicated, and it is a standard approach,” Wood said, adding that bidders are willing to come into the process and invest substantial sums to submit to the city because they have these measures in place.
“An event centre construction comes around once a generation for a community and we don’t expect to have that expertise on staff,” Shelsted said.
The event centre update wasn’t the only KED-related item on tonight’s agenda, but city council didn’t get around to Montpellier’s motion as a result of the meeting hitting the three-hour mark and city council failing to get the two-thirds majority vote needed to go longer.
As such, Montpellier’s motion will shift to the next city council meeting.
Montpellier’s motion resolves that “city staff is hereby directed to gather and present to council all existing pertinent, committed, signed sureties and commercial risks by all partners to the KED project identifying clearly the risks that are now appearing, in order to provide open and transparent accurate information to the taxpayers of Greater Sudbury.”
Similarly, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc’s motion also wasn’t addressed tonight. It resolves “that the City of Greater Sudbury direct staff to bring back a report by the end of the first quarter of 2022 assessing the potential implications of suspending the Junction East project until a future period.”
The Junction East project is a central library and art gallery slated for downtown Greater Sudbury. The 62,000-square-foot project was originally priced at approximately $46.5 million.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.