After Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich caused a stir by declaring the team needs a “brand new arena,” Sudbury.com reached out to the full slate of municipal candidates vying for election on Oct. 24 to see where they stand on the matter.
At issue is the aging Sudbury Community Arena. Although it’s reportedly holding up quite well for a building 71 years of age, it will require millions of dollars in renovations to remain viable in the coming years.
In 2017, city council decided to move forward with a larger arena/events centre on The Kingsway. At the time, other locations, including downtown and a possible refurbishment of the existing downtown arena, were also considered.
The city was progressing forward with the new arena/events centre, called the Kingsway Entertainment District, until its cost doubled to more than $215 million and council voted to end the project in July.
Zulich was the land developer behind the KED, and reiterated his advocacy for a “brand new arena” during last week’s unveiling of a new scoreboard at the Sudbury Community Arena.
“The Sudbury Wolves, very soon we'll be playing in a brand new arena somewhere,” he said, making reference to the “last few years” of the team’s lease with the downtown arena.
The Sudbury Wolves’ lease agreement with the city expires on May 31, 2024, after which there are three one-year extensions bringing it to May 31, 2027.
In response to the dialogue his comments provoked, Zulich later affirmed his “unwavering” commitment to Sudbury in a brief written statement.
“As the owner of the Sudbury Wolves, I want the players, the fans and all the people of Sudbury to enjoy our brand of hockey in a NEW events centre, not a refurbished arena,” he said.
“The location of that new facility within Sudbury, be it in the east-end, downtown or even south-end, is not my decision to make. It is a decision of council.”
Zulich later clarified to Sudbury.com it would break his heart if the team were to leave Sudbury, but the team needs a new arena. The KED was proposed as an “arena/events centre,” carrying more amenities than the downtown arena has the footprint to host.
Sudbury.com reached out to this year’s slate of municipal candidates by email on Monday morning, requesting a response by the end of the day Wednesday.
Sudbury.com then issued a follow-up email asking those who had yet to respond by the end of day Wednesday to send something in by noon on Thursday.
Candidates were asked: With the Kingsway Entertainment District dead, how should (or should?) the city proceed with a new or renewed arena, and what role should they play? Do you have a cost limit in mind?
The following is a summary of the responses received by email and phone. No parameters were provided for candidates’ responses, which have been edited for grammar, length and clarity.
Brian Bigger - No more borrowing, wait on city report
During city council’s Sept. 13 meeting, city council voted in favour of a motion for staff to produce a background report updating council on the “condition assessment and operational effectiveness analysis of the Sudbury Community Arena and provide a high-level summary of options for its replacement or renovation, including comparisons of facility size, amenities and business approach with event centres in other Canadian Hockey League communities.”
“I am not in favour of borrowing more money to fund a project like this,” Bigger said. “The taxpayers are also not in favour of that and that’s something they were clear about.
“The new council will decide what the most appropriate decision is, and I believe that discussion should happen then.”
Evelyn Dutrisac - Other priorities, possible downtown renovation
With people concerned about the high cost of living and crumbling infrastructure, Dutrisac said “talk of the arena needs a break.”
“We need to regroup and remove emotions embedded in the Kingsway Entertainment District (KED),” she said.
“A design comes first based on public need and input. A design was never done for the KED. Maybe at this stage a renovation of the Sudbury Arena with possible extension will suffice. The process has to be open, transparent, and driven by council and the public.
“I fully support an Ontario Hockey League team in Greater Sudbury. Restoring the citizens’ trust and confidence in our city’s municipal government system is paramount for the success of the newly elected mayor and council. This is what I stand for.”
Devin Labranche - Work with strategic partners
It’s “important to pay attention to strategic partners in the private sector,” Labranche said.
“Especially ones that are the primary tenant for the city owned arena.”
This is in reference to Zulich, who while stating an “unwavering” commitment to Sudbury has also pushed for a brand new, and not refurbished, arena. This, in turn, calls to question the Wolves’ longevity in the city in the event the city does not move forward with a new arena.
“If elected mayor my goal will be to synergise a long term strategy for mutual success,” he said.
“My overall goal is to find the most cost efficient way to either renew or find that location. It's my goal to invest in ways to develop the city and increase revenues. This should all be done within a short period of time.
“It's apparent that the citizens are tired of the gridlock and lack of progress on the matter. I hope to find a solution to either start renovations or construction in 2023. I'm looking forward to working with Zulich and all other partners in growing the City of Sudbury.”
Paul Lefebvre - Stick to the money already borrowed
“With the KED firmly in the rear view mirror, after the costs escalated to $215 million, it is time to reconsider how we will invest in our community arena,” Lefebvre said.
“We should revisit the Official Plan, various consultants' reports regarding the arena and the options presented by those consultants. On the issue of cost, we need to ensure two fundamentals. That the project is within our means, well planned and managed and does not exceed the money already allocated by the last council - less the amounts that have been already spent. We need to live within or below that budget maximum.”
After spending $5.2 million on the KED thus far, the city has approximately $84.8 million left of the $90 million borrowed for the project.”
Miranda Rocca-Circelli - Nothing until a third-party audit is completed
Having already called for an audit of city department budgets and a freeze on any capital spending in a recent media release, don’t expect arena funding soon from Rocca-Circelli.
“Before we can proceed with any type of expenditure that will add weight to current high taxes citizens are paying, we need to build accountability and identify where we are spending,” she said.
“To provide perspective; Sudbury is not comparable to similar cities, where on a single line item in 2022 Greater Sudbury spent 43.1 per cent of the total budget while North Bay spent 22.4 per cent, Kawartha lakes spent 19.2 per cent.
“A third-party audit will provide a perspective that can help direct our city into better times. The information and recommendations this audit will bring to light will enable the next mayor and council to make informed decisions on the ability of the tax base to support major expenditures moving forward. To commit to any major spending in the absence of this information would be irresponsible.”
The city undertakes a third-party audit every year.
Last year’s audit was undertaken by KPMG, whose staff determined the city’s 2021 consolidated financial statements to be “in accordance with Canadian public sector accounting standards.” They offered an “unqualified audit opinion,” which means they found the finances to be fairly and appropriately presented.
Bob Johnston - Nothing until an audit and review is done
An “audit and review of management” is needed first, Johnston said.
“Let's be honest, we have no real figures of the debt load,” he said. “Maybe a couple businessmen will get together and build an arena but as we talk today our taxpayers must be protected No. 1.
The Wolves and the new arena must be talked about but not be put out as a threat.”
In past interviews and speaking engagements, Johnston has mentioned a need to remove up to 10 members of city administration.
With the city securing an additional $103 million in debt this year, their total debt load has hit approximately $355 million.
The city’s annual financial documents, audited each year by a third-party, include various references to the city’s debt load.
Don Gravelle - A referendum is needed
Gravelle isn’t taking a stand on the arena question.
“The new council should canvas their constituents as to what they want,” he said. “Bring it to a meeting and decide the Top 5. Once the Top 5 are chosen, let the people decide by a referendum.”
Mila Wong - It’s a non-issue
“On the matter of KED, to me and for me, this is a non-issue,” Wong said.
“I am not knowledgeable on the details and specifics so I will not make comments or put in my two cents.”
Sudbury.com did not reach out.
Mark Facendi - Audit needs to take place*
"I believe that before council goes ahead with any more spending, a full audit needs to happen," Facendi said.
"We need to bring transparency and accountability back to city hall. Once the full details have been delivered, then, and only then, can decisions be made."
Eric Benoit - Support a plan without taxpayer money
When it comes to a new arena, Benoit said the city should support “any plan that does not involve taxpayer money.”
“The only way the city should invest taxpayer money is if there is a significant and verifiable return on investment,” he said.
“The city should help Zulich with his development like they should with all development. By streamlining the process and setting clear and achievable expectations. Then the city should provide the resources necessary to make the process as painless as possible.”
Michel Guy Brabant
Gerry Montpellier - Renovate using grants from senior levels of government
As he has all along, Montpellier said he’s promoting the renovation of the existing downtown arena using federal and provincial green energy grants – programs he said have been used successfully by other municipalities
Pauline Fortin - A referendum is required
A referendum needs to take place on the KED, Fortin said – “In fact, it should have been part of our current municipal election.”
Montpellier pushed for a referendum earlier this year, but city council shot down his motion with a vote of 8-5. At the time, the direction of city council was to proceed with the project, as this was before its cost ballooned in cost to $215 million.
“With all the ongoing division and our inability to move forward, it seems very simple to me,” Fortin said. “Let’s listen to the will of the people.”
“Most of our current council do not seem to care too much what the people may actually want and the entire council has not been able to move the city forward,” she added. “Too many seem to have their own agenda and our governing and city elites are running the show from downtown.”
People in Ward 4 are “divided and very passionate about the KED fiasco,” she said, adding a referendum also needs to be held on the Junction East Cultural Hub and the Junction West convention centre projects. City council voted in June to suspend Junction West.
How to proceed with an arena project needs to be “our decision,” she said. “It will also for sure be a very sad day if we lose our beloved Wolves and a huge step backwards for our city.”
Geoff McCausland - Renovate the existing arena
The city should renovate the existing arena and consider plans such as ProjectNow to get it done, McCausland said.
“With affordability such an issue for families and households these days, it’s more important than ever to balance the costs with the benefits of any city investment,” he said.
“The price on the Kingsway ballooned to $215 million, but still not included in that price tag is the millions required to knock down and remove the old barn, or tens of millions to convert it to anything else.
“Renovating has worked for other cities like North Bay and Kitchener, and is the greener and more cost-effective solution.”
Hopefully, he said the city will be able to “breathe new life into the old barn in a way that gets Greater Sudburians all the amenities of a modern events centre for a fraction of the cost of a new build.”
In his correspondence, McCausland also pointed to a story in The Atlantic, which highlights the idea stadiums and arenas rarely bring about the prosperity they promise.
Alice Norquay - Respect democracy
Seeing the merits and pitfalls of a downtown arena and one located elsewhere, Norquay said she’ll make a decision and vote accordingly when the time comes.
“Having the arena downtown is better for me as a resident, because it's walking distance and I know people who work and own businesses downtown,” she said.
“Moving the arena out of the downtown core and even developing a sports district (and a museum district, and a conference district...) could prove beneficial to the largest number of residents. Once I'm on council, if the decision that is made by the majority is not the one that I agree with, I will respect democracy by supporting the council's decision (without mitigating factors).”
City councillors reopening issues for debate which have already been on, without significant evidence of malfaisance, “is discouraging at best, malicious and in bad faith at worst.”
Robert Kirwan - Put off the project for now
Though it will require some renovations to remain viable, the Sudbury Community Arena will serve the Sudbury Wolves fine for the time being, Kirwan said,
"If there's no urgency, then we can wait until the time is better,” Kirwan said, adding that the $84.8 remaining borrowed for the KED at a historically low interest rate might be allocated to other projects.
“I would suggest that when deciding on the 2023 budget, city council consider using that money to leverage funds from the senior levels of government to invest in other much needed infrastructure upgrades or replacements,” he said.
“If I am re-elected as councillor of Ward 5, I will not support using that money to renovate the current arena or to be put toward a new events centre. We have too many other more important uses for that money.”
At the moment, he said, there is “absolutely no need for the next city council to do anything with the Sudbury Community Arena.
“In fact, staff have indicated that the arena is structurally sound and can continue to function quite well for a long time into the future. Therefore, we can simply do whatever is needed in terms of regular maintenance and the Wolves can play out of the arena for the next 10 years at least under an extension to the current lease.”
Michel Parent - Wait on the municipal report
With city administration currently working on a comprehensive report on the Sudbury Community Arena, Parent said he’d like to see the information before making a decision.
“I can also share that most of the residents that bring this up when I go door to door have made it abundantly clear that they are in favour of renovating the current arena and not take on any further debt.”
Randy Hazlett - Find an alternative location for a private venture
The new arena/events centre project should have remained a private venture, and neither the downtown nor The Kingsway location are ideal, Hazlett said.
“I agree that the downtown arena needs to be renovated to keep it as a viable location, however I am not in favour of locating the arena downtown as the parking, location and general appeal of the downtown core at this point isn't ideal,” he said.
“As for the KED in its proposed form, it had the potential to be a great entertainment hub that offered a casino, sports complex, hotel, etc. But the location also wasn't ideal with the landfill close by.”
Rather than have the city take over the project as a municipal arena, they should have “Worked to assist the developers of this venue,” he said.
“I think there are alternative locations to explore, I think close to the airport on Radar Road just past Skead Road might be an ideal location. Being closer to the airport, this might be a great feature to the development.”
Natalie Labbée - Wait on city report, but likely downtown
Although Labbée said she believes in waiting on the city’s report on the Sudbury Community Arena, “because anything else would be premature,” she prefers a downtown location.
“Keeping the arena in the downtown is also congruent with many studies,” she said, adding that the city’s downtown has various amenities that would bundle together well with an arena/events centre.
“We have a lot of work to do in changing the climate for even more people to consider (downtown) a safe and accessible place to venture,” she added. “Sudbury is not alone in that. Most cities are struggling with the dire reality of it in their downtown cores.
City finances are also an issue, she said.
“There's only so much a dollar can be stretched and many families are having a hard time making ends meet as it is. They won't miraculously find ‘extra money’ to spend on a night out to watch hockey or basketball or a concert. The reality is, arenas don't make money. They are expensive to operate and sustain.
“I'm looking forward to being part of the conversation about our Arena, while being mindful of costs. While I don't have a dollar figure in mind, an amount that is considerably less than what was lastly estimated for the KED project is indeed more palatable. Even Ottawa is moving their NHL arena from the outskirts of the city into the downtown. There's merit in that.”
As for the implication the Sudbury Wolves might leave the city in the event they don’t get a new arena, she said, “I strongly feel that any amount of perceived ultimatums from user groups should also not be part of influencing the decision by Council either way.”
Mark McKillop - Listening to the public, but do not believe in a downtown project
Rather than respond to Sudbury.com’s inquiry, McKillop pointed to a post on his Facebook page on which he refers to the KED saga as a “horror show.”
“While all the divisiveness over the KED raged on and the anti-KED groups stalled the project out, North Bay snuck in and has become the events and entertainment destination in Northern Ontario,” he said. “North Bay is now perceived, quite rightly I am sad to say, as Northern Ontario’s premier city.”
A “leadership vacuum” at city council and a failure to rally around their decision to proceed with the KED got us to where we are today, he said.
“What we got was a fractured council and a fractured city,” he said. “But the buck truly stops with the anti-KED, pro-downtown and anti-growth zealots that stalled the project out to the point where costs have now doubled. Love the KED or hate the KED, the inescapable fact is that we are now in a prohibitive cost environment because we do not have the KED. All we have is a final bill for over $5 million and our Sudbury Wolves at risk of leaving if we do not solve the problem.”
It’s unclear what the next step might be, he said.
“What I do believe is that tax payers and people must be heard, before decisions are made,” he said. “There must be broad support and acceptance of the project before our next council votes.”
His opinion is that the arena project should go anywhere “but downtown, and that the old barn be repurposed into something else,” such as an indoor market or homeless shelter.
Patrick Auge - The city must not lose the Sudbury Wolves
The city needs to do whatever it takes to retain the Sudbury Wolves hockey team, Auge said.
“Our community has continuously supported the Sudbury Wolves for decades, and they have persevered, as a result,” he said. “They are a staple of our community.”
“Dario Zulich’s statement is vague and his intentions for the Sudbury Wolves are unclear. The worst-case scenario for the community is that he takes the team elsewhere. We must do whatever it takes to prevent this, while simultaneously preparing for it.”
The city needs more information from Zulich, he said, and the city needs to prioritize both the team and the Downtown Master Plan.
Patrick McCoy - The public needs a say
Having knocked on hundreds of doors across Ward 8 thus far, McCoy said he has received a clear message that residents feel ignored by the City of Greater Sudbury.
“This Council has had five years to build the KED and couldn’t get the job done,” he said. “Council supported the spending of millions on consultants and reports but couldn’t get shovels in the ground. They’ve wasted over $5 million chasing this dream while asking residents to pay more and more. It’s caused deep division and resentment across the community, showcasing the actual lack of leadership at Tom Davies Square.”
The city needs a new arena, he said, “Whether that’s a renovation of the current barn or a new build on another site, I am open to considering all options, as are most residents I speak with.”
“They deserve to get the final say as they did with Boxing Day shopping.
The new Council will decide the future of the KED and the building of a new arena. Those decisions need to be made through intense public consultation that ends with the options being presented to taxpayers at a referendum. We cannot afford to debate this issue for another five years, and unless there’s a fundamental shake up at City Hall, that’s where we’re heading.
Bill McElree - Money should be spent to build downtown
The KED is dead, McElree said of the most-asked question on the campaign trail – “Dead.”
“It appears renovating the barn isn’t feasible and since the money is already located let’s make sure what we build downtown provides even more services to Greater Sudbury,” he said.
Vital Rainville - Renovate the existing arena, tax mining companies**
The downtown Sudbury Community Arena requires a “revamp” and a “much-needed lift,” Rainville said.
The project will required GOVA Transit improvements and the construction of a parking garage.
“Of course this will have the effect of attracting people back to the core of our great community,” Rainville said, citing “job creation” as the objective.
As for the project’s costs, Rainville proposes taxing the big mining companies more to generate new tax dollars.
Al Sizer - Put building a new arena on pause for now
“I am certain the arena question will be revisited when the new council is sworn in,” Sizer said.
“I do feel with all the discussion, reports and studies that have been provided over the past term regarding the build of a new event centre and KED location, it is good to pause and take leave for the short term.
“That being said, I am in favour of building a new arena. While speaking with residents of Ward 8 those who have commented have indicated two things - build a new arena and build on The Kingsway site.
“As for the cost of the project, all I can say is I'm not willing to spend $215 million on a new facility.”
Citing personal reasons, Clarkson withdrew his candidacy
Deb McIntosh - Listening to residents
McIntosh pointed Sudbury.com in the direction of her campaign website for comment. Although the website doesn’t answer the inquiry, it does include a couple lines about an arena project.
“We still have a 70-year old arena that has needed expensive emergency repairs, and was not built for the types of sporting and entertainment experiences that people want these days,” she wrote.
“I would very much like to hear from you with your thoughts on what we should do at email@example.com”
Sharon Jane Scott - Build on city-owned land with lots of parking*
"The arena needs to be put where there would be a lot of parking, preferably on city-owned land," Scott said.
"Perhaps something could be done behind the Best Buy-Lowes-Silver City. There are several streets leading up to that area and it would be in an already heavily commercial area and not owing anything to a land owner. Having the arena owned by the city the revenue can be put back into the city instead of raising our taxes."
Much of the land cited by Scott is privately owned and already has a development planned,
Once opened, the city should rent out space within the facility, Scott said.
"It would be nice if the citizens had more say on where they want the facilities and what they want within them. You'll never get complete agreement, but maybe you would get some good ideas. If we are paying for it we should have a say in where the money is going."
No contact information was posted to the city’s website
Fern Cormier - More information is needed
Waiting on the municipal report regarding the downtown arena, Cormier said it’ll be up to the new city council to make a decision.
“This will form part of the discussion about moving forward, and I am sure that will include whether to renovate or build new,” he said of the upcoming report.
“There are pros and cons to both choices but all the information related to that needs to be available before making a decision.
“These are expensive projects, as we’ll need accurate costing, public input and reliable information from all involved if we revisit this idea again. But Mr. Zulich is right, it will be a decision of the next council.”
Jolene Felsbourg-Linton - A new arena is needed, bias for downtown
Although admitting to having a “bias” for a downtown location for a new arena, Felsbourg-Linton said she recognizes it’s her ward and not everyone will agree.
“I think it would be interesting to have a competition on design, budget and innovation that the community could vote on,” she said.
“The community knows what it wants and needs. They’re the ones bringing their families to hockey games or attending concerts with friends. I think it would be exciting for the citizens to be presented with three or four architectural models and their costs and be able to vote.
“The community has watched the council struggle to decide with nothing to show for it. In that time, citizens have had a lot of time to come up with opinions of their own and deserve to be a part of a final decision.”
Michael Sanders - Doesn’t need to be addressed immediately
Sanders said he would be “supremely disappointed” if the next city council allowed the arena issue to dominate civic affairs for another four years.
“Does it need to be addressed? Of course. Immediately? I don’t think so. What we do need to tackle is a pretty massive infrastructure deficit (I would include neighbourhood recreation facilities into that tabulation), simultaneous addiction and housing crises and an unmoored tax levy.”
Compared to other municipalities in Ontario, the city’s tax rate is middle of the road. Among municipalities with populations greater than 100,000, Greater Sudbury’s tax levy for a detached bungalow example by which municipalities are compared is among the lowest.
“I’d love a shiny new barn as much as the next person but I think we need to get a little more creative about how the bill is paid,” Sanders said.
“The right public-private partnership would see a greater portion paid by enterprise with the added benefit of actually incentivizing the filling of that arena with the shows, concerts and acts we all want to see come here.”
Bill Leduc - The city needs a new arena, not a renovation
It has been clear for years that Greater Sudbury needs a brand new arena, not a refurbishment of the 71-year-old Sudbury Community Arena, Leduc said.
The city needs to “build a new arena that’s going to be the proper size so that we can have a great entertainment centre in the heart of Sudbury somewhere, I don’t care if it’s downtown, The Kingsway, South End, wherever council decided to put it.”
There’s already almost $85 million borrowed for a new arena/events centre, which he said should be used for its originally intended purpose.
“We owe it to everybody, because this is going to be another attraction for Sudbury, with a new arena,” he said. “It’s going to help all our businesses throughout our area economic-wise.”
Between hockey tournaments and other large economic attractions, he said the new arena will need to be much larger than the existing downtown site, and he estimates it costing between $100-$130 million.
Christopher Duncanson-Hales - Downtown arena project is needed
Using a car analogy, Duncanson-Hales pointed out there’s a big windshield and a much smaller rear view mirror, and that we need to focus ahead on the windshield.
“The KED is behind us, and we’ve got to move forward,” he said.
“I think we do need an arena, I think downtown is the better location, but I’m not sure how that process is going to be handled when we get on council.”
The question now, he said, is do they build right away or wait until interest rates get better.
“If I could have a Genie give me a wish, is that we get it done as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s been so divisive for the community … so we should get it done so we can look at other important issues.”
Luciano Di Mario - Keep the arena where it is
“The Sudbury Community Arena should be renovated and modernized,” Di Mario said.
“Some of the $84.4 million the city gets from the now-defunct KED deal should be used towards the renovations to keep the arena where it is.”
Jeff MacIntyre - Modern arena in an existing commercial district
MacIntyre pledges to “work to ensure the city delivers a modern arena acceptable to the specs of an OHL team that serves the citizens of Sudbury at a fair cost.”
“Given the declining demand for commercial real estate across the country following a shift to work from home and increased online shopping, we need to ensure we are reinforcing our existing commercial districts before we create new ones,” he said.
“Sudbury has many economic priorities, like being an international leader in industrial battery electric vehicles, our university's recovery, dealing with an opioid crisis, and dealing with the effects of decades of youth out-migration. The arena is an important issue, but not one we can allow the council to be distracted by as the last two councils have been.”
Shawn Ouimet - It makes no sense to jump into a project now
Given today’s financial climate, Ouimet said it makes “no sense” to jump into a new arena/events centre project right now, although he does want a new centre.
“We need first to give back the irresponsible $250 million loan that council took for building the KED,” he said, citing this as “step one to begin a decrease on our projected tax hikes.”
Although the city has taken out various debts in recent years, with its most recent total estimated debt load sitting at approximately $355 million, only $90 million in debt was taken out for the KED, of which $84.8 million remains. The balance has been earmarked for other projects.
“After the city's expenses are in order then we can look at building a new arena/events centre,” he said. “I hope it will take no more than my first two years.
“I think downtown is a great area if space permits, in saying that to build a new venue in its current location is a terrible idea.
“Tough questions need to be asked and I don’t believe my counterparts have the understanding of this project to do just that.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.
*Editor's Note: These responses were added after this story was originally published.
**Vital Rainville's name was previously misspelled.