From city hall to library/art gallery?
Greater Sudbury’s city hall building has been recommended by municipal staff to house a long-proposed central library/art gallery project.
So described city strategic initiatives, communications and citizen services executive director Ian Wood during a presentation to city council on Tuesday afternoon, which he delivered within the very building up for debate.
Following this proposal, the majority of municipal operations currently taking place at Tom Davies Square would relocate to the building to its immediate north (199 Larch St.), which the city also owns and is roughly half empty.
“This presents an opportunity to better utilize space that is already owned and available in the city’s hands,” Wood said, noting that various provincial offices at 199 Larch St. have closed during the pandemic, which has left enough vacant space open to accommodate municipal operations.
The One-Stop Service centre, which opened in the foyer at Tom Davies Square last year, is expected to remain in place, adding to an “inspiring combination” of services slated to be delivered in the proposed library/art gallery/municipal space, Wood said.
Called the Junction East Cultural Hub, the library/art gallery project was previously proposed as a $98.5-million, 104,000-square-foot new building to be constructed on the Sudbury Theatre Centre parking lot. The building was to house a new central library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury and include space for the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association.
The city’s elected officials pumped the brakes on the project in February, when they voted to shave it down to $65 million and for staff to seek alternative downtown locations.
For a new build, the budget reduction of 34 per cent being sought would require a space reduction of approximately 52 per cent, which Wood said the partner organizations indicated would make them unable to achieve their collective vision for the Junction East Cultural Hub.
By retrofitting an existing building at a lower cost than constructing something new, he said, “We’re not talking about a 53 per cent reduction in space. ... We’re talking about accommodating virtually all of the functional programs that were described for that new building.”
As such, city staff have focused on investigating building retrofit options in downtown Sudbury, and not potential locations for the construction of a new building.
Wood’s presentation focused on three potential locations for the library/art gallery project:
- 200 Brady Street (Tom Davies Square)
- 140 Durham Street (Centre For Life, which includes YMCA of Northeastern Ontario)
- Other Durham Street properties complementary to the Centre for Life
The Centre For Life offers a partial fit, although Wood noted it doesn’t have space to co-locate all three project partners (library, art gallery, multicultural association).
Other potential Durham Street properties were not pursued due to a property owner’s disinterest, and other properties being considered inappropriate investments.
Tom Davies Square, meanwhile, was deemed a viable option by city staff.
With both the City of Greater Sudbury and Province of Ontario relying less on office space since the COVID-19 pandemic struck a few years ago, an opportunity has arisen “to better utilize available space,” he said.
The building’s current design “lends itself to library use,” Wood’s presentation notes, with certain features, including a courtyard in the back and second-floor terraces and atrium, adding character.
It’s also across the street from the Sudbury Theatre Centre, which would allow the project’s partners to plan joint programming, as envisioned under the previous proposal.
With the building’s operating costs largely already present in the city’s existing budget, locating the library/art gallery at Tom Davies Square would allow the city to avoid approximately $1.1 million in annual operating costs compared to a new building.
By cohabiting at Tom Davies Square, the project would also trigger a review of existing municipal services, which could lead to upgrades for Community Energy and Emissions Plan (environmental) and accessibility purposes.
Regardless of whether the library project proceeds, Wood noted that various capital upgrades will be required at Tom Davies Square in the next 10 to 15 years.
Developer Greg Oldenburg recently proposed the old brewery building he owns on Lorne Street be used for the art gallery. Oldenburg has maintained a long-standing plan to develop the property into condominiums, which has yet to come to fruition.
The building has largely been unused since Northern Breweries closed in 2004.
The brewery proposal was unsolicited and outside of what city council requested, as it would separate the art gallery from the library. Wood noted in his presentation, “No due diligence will be completed on this option.”
The same applies to a proposal from the nearby Elm Place mall, whose leadership sent correspondence to the city a few days ago proposing their building for the project. Formerly called the Rainbow Mall, a similar proposal was made in 2017 but was passed over in favour of a project at the Sudbury Community Arena property, which later shifted to the Sudbury Theatre Centre parking lot and now Tom Davies Square.
Although there were no decisions made during Tuesday’s meeting, the city’s elected officials appeared generally supportive of the Tom Davies Square proposal.
Commending the use of the building as a “great use of space,” Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said he supports the project’s low cost compared to the $98.5-million former proposal.
Although staff was given direction to limit the project’s scope to $65 million, Wood clarified that financial estimates won’t be available until later this year.
“This is a beautiful building that we’re in,” Ward 4 Coun. Pauline Fortin said. “We’re responsible for the taxpayers, and the operating cost is already here. We’re already open, the lights are already on, it’s already baked in, and when we become a tenant somewhere else we’re adding all kinds of extra costs to our taxpayers.”
The next big presentation on the Junction East Cultural Hub project will take place in council chambers on Sept. 26, at which time it’s anticipated that city council will make a decision.
The consensus around council chambers during Tuesday’s meeting was that if they’re dissatisfied with the Tom Davies Square option on Sept. 26, they’re likely to ask city staff to reach out to the general public for alternative sites via a request for proposals.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.