The Sudbury Wolves hockey team is here to stay, regardless of whatever happens with the long-delayed Kingsway Entertainment District, team owner Dario Zulich told Sudbury.com.
“The Sudbury Wolves are part of Sudbury, and I’m part of Sudbury,” he said, adding that he was born and raised in Sudbury and will live out his days in the Nickel City.
“They’re not my team, they’re Sudbury’s team, so not on my watch is that team ever going to get moved,” he said of the OHL team. “That team will never leave Sudbury, categorically, and I will never sell that team. I love that team.”
Rumours surrounding the team’s longevity in Sudbury began circulating last week with the public release of a motion that Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier plans on presenting during this week’s city council meeting.
Following a lengthy preamble that raises the spectre of the Sudbury Wolves’ sale/relocation and other concerns regarding the Kingsway Entertainment District arena/events centre, Montpellier resolves “that staff is hereby directed to make full disclosure of these issues to council and the public, at Council meeting prior to June 1, 2022.”
Montpellier clarified in a Facebook post that, similar to his motion late last year requesting that city staff clarify there are no legally binding bid commitments among the KED’s partners to date, his latest motion is intended to clarify that there is no guarantee of an anchor hockey team.
Sudbury.com reached out to Zulich, city engineering services director David Shelsted and OHL commissioner David Branch to determine the validity of this concern.
Both the Wolves and the Sudbury Five basketball team, which currently play at the downtown Sudbury Community Arena, are expected to shift to the KED’s facilities as soon as they open in 2025, according to the latest timeline. Zulich is the developer partner for this project alongside the city, Genesis Hospitality (hotel) and Gateway Casinos. Genesis Hospitality and Gateway Casinos are expected to develop their own private facilities on the property.
Montpellier has been an outspoken opponent to the KED, which he refuses to refer to by name because he doesn’t believe the partners will follow through with their components. He instead calls it “the world's most expensive single-pad hockey arena.”
At no point has Zulich ever uttered the words, “If I don’t get a new facility I’m leaving,” or implied anything to that effect, Branch said.
“He values, he understands, he appreciates what the Wolves mean to the community and he is so proud of Sudbury and the region and he’s going to do everything in his power to maintain the presence of the Wolves, grow the Wolves’ presence and brand.”
Zulich affirmed these sentiments in conversation with Sudbury.com, saying, “I’m expected to grow very old and very grey being part of this team.”
Although Zulich said the KED will give the team “a fighting chance to make sure players come to Sudbury” by bringing their facilities up to modern league standards. There’s much more to the team than their physical arena space, which they have already been accomplishing in their current 70-year-old downtown facility.
“This is our city,” he said. “We come together and we cheer … and it brings me a lot of joy just to see the happy faces in the stands.”
The Wolves’ current lease for the Sudbury Community Arena expires on May 31, after which time Shelsted said a new use and occupational agreement will immediately commence for a two-year period with options to extend for three additional one-year terms.
There’s flexibility in the leases because although the arena’s grand opening is expected to take place in 2025, it’s not a guarantee, so it’s unclear when operations will transition over.
On that front, the Wolves and Five have already signed term sheets for the KED.
“It’s an agreement to agree, so it’s not enforceable, but we outline the terms in there,” Shelsted explained, describing the term sheets as a “starting point of negotiations” that works out key components so they can hash out its nuances down the line.
Among the most significant things clarified thus far are 15-year renewable terms for the Wolves and five-year renewable terms for the Five.
Although OHL attendance has been down across the board since the pandemic started in early 2020, Branch said he anticipates things returning to pre-pandemic levels at some point.
Just when that will be, exactly, remains to be seen.
“You just don’t flip a switch and suddenly we’re back to normal, we’ve all got to work toward hopefully eliminating the virus and creating confidence in our consumers to come back – and they are coming back, but it is a process,” he said.
“We provide a great entertainment opportunity for people who have been starved by virtually being shut in for the last two and a half years.”
Although the Wolves’ position in Sudbury appears safe, Branch clarified that the state of OHL teams’ host arenas are “critical” to each hockey organization.
“The big part of what our teams face is having to recruit players to come to their centres, and the facility plays a significant role in that in terms of the training support systems that are in place on ice and off ice and that whole environment,” he said, adding that each team is competing with not only others in the OHL, but also those part of other leagues.
Although reluctant to weigh into the community’s ongoing debate regarding the KED, Branch said that newer facilities generally have improved broadcast capabilities, “which is critical in this day and age,” spectator comfort and facilities to develop players.
The Wolves’ amenities in the new arena makes up approximately five per cent of its total floor space, Zulich said, describing it as a vast improvement compared to what they currently have at the downtown arena that will bring it on par with other newer OHL facilities.
The proposed plan comes as a result of tours of other OHL arenas and following best practices, Shelsted said, adding, “In one form or fashion it’s comparable to all of the newer events centres that have been built.”
While the sports teams are poised to become the KED’s anchor tenants, he clarified that various other amenities fill out the events centre building to keep it viable for other activities throughout the year. A more in-depth written walkthrough of the arena drawn from request for proposal design/build documents can be found by clicking here.
Montpellier’s motion is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, which is scheduled to take place at Tom Davies Square beginning at 6 p.m. For those who don’t attend in person, a livestream will also be available by clicking here.
The meeting will also include a report on repurposing of the Sudbury Community Arena.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.