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Updated arena report clear, Bigger says, KED is best: ‘We’ve made a decision and we need to proceed’

During a meeting that got heated at times, mayor says ‘a lot of facts have been clarified’ in report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and it’s time to move forward with the Kingsway Entertainment District
Artists representation of Kingsway Entertainment District. (Supplied)

A special meeting held by city council to review an updated cost analysis of the Kingsway Entertainment District (KED) and rebuilding the Sudbury Community Arena, ended after a motion was passed to declare the conversation over.

The motion was tabled by Coun. Robert Kirwan, and passed by a slim margin of seven votes to six. It came after four hours of discussion surrounding the KED and the still-contentious event centre project. Representatives from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the company hired to put together the report, provided an updated cost comparison between expanding Sudbury Arena and building the KED. 

It was a chance for councillors to see how the past five years have impacted the financials for building either project.

It was a presentation for information purposes only. Councillors were given two rounds of questioning to pick apart the report and to ask any questions of Ron Bidulka, managing director, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Conray Boychuk of ian mckay architect inc., the Coquitlam, B.C.-based firm tasked with updating the 2017 Business Case Report with current available information.

In their report, they say the overall direct benefits associated with the Kingsway site are estimated to be greater than rebuilding the downtown arena, and that development and construction of a new events centre has lower risk overall, because it’s like “building new on a blank slate,” said Bidulka.

There were two questions they were directed by staff to answer:

-Since 2017, have any of the elements about the project changed such that its potential for producing the desired outcomes is markedly different;

-Since 2017, and especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have there been any changes in the operating environment that would affect the project’s success.

The report concluded the modernization of the “old barn” downtown has the highest risk potential for a number of reasons, including design and operating costs.

The report was little comfort among city councillors opposed to the KED. Many expressed disappointment with the report, and asked a lot of tough questions of the report’s authors.

Several times, Mayor Brian Bigger had to tell council that tonight’s meeting was for information only, and that council made the decision in 2017 to proceed with the KED.

“Further delays are more and more frustrating,” said Bigger. “It’s clear, we’ve made a decision, and we need to proceed. There were no motions in this discussion, and a lot of facts have been clarified tonight.”

Councillors spent hours asking their questions, and voted in favour of going past their 9 p.m. adjournment. 

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry Altmann revealed the results of a poll she conducted among residents in her ward. She said she got up to 600 responses. The results, she said, are “overwhelmingly” in favour of the KED project.

“The KED is seen as the positive way forward,” she said. 

(Respondents) were 2.5 to one in favour of the KED, she said.

“This just reinforces the position we took in 2017,” she said. “Ward 12 remains supportive of the Kingsway location.”

She said as unofficial as the poll can be, people were enthusiastic in their responses.

Coun. Michael Vagnini said the report is full of speculation. He also wanted to know why the report did not contain any information on Project Now, when he said he was assured by the mayor at an earlier meeting that it would be included in the report,

Ian Wood, executive director of Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Citizen Services, told Vagnini the direction given to staff by council, which was voted on and passed earlier this year, was to do a cost analysis of the KED and an expansion of the Sudbuy Community Arena. 

That direction was passed on to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and the report was published.

Kirwan questioned why council was debating anything at all tonight, when the report was for information only, and that council in 2017 voted in favour of the KED project.

But the meeting did not make it past 10 p.m. (10:10 as the meeting started late due to technical difficulties), even though the vote was close. 

Kirwan’s motion to declare the discussion over passed narrowly, and then the meeting ended, but not before Coun. Gerry Montpellier, who, upon casting his vote, told his fellow councillors he wanted it on record that, “this is not democracy.”

With the meeting over, staff has been directed to develop a timeline with decision points required of council as they move forward. The next report will be presented later this month, or early July.