The Kingsway Entertainment District is continuing along its path toward a grand opening in 2024 with a divided Greater Sudbury city council steering the ship.
Although they haven’t been unanimous in approving the municipal arena project, which is slated to be bolstered by a casino and hotel, the majority has spoken.
At this point, a city spokesperson said that a decision to cancel or halt the KED project would require a two-thirds majority vote of city council.
“As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a done deal until there are shovels in the ground,” said Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, who remains concerned the project, off of The Kingsway near the Sudbury Landfill Site, is “going to be the biggest mistake our city’s ever made.”
The first big step in the KED took place on June 27, 2017, when city council of the day voted six yeas to six nays on a motion to approve a downtown location for a new arena.
With this vote defeated, a subsequent vote of 10 to two secured the project in its currently approved location.
Debates and discussions have continued in the subsequent years within both city council and the general public, including several court challenges that were thrown out. New legal action by the Minnow Lake Restoration group was filed earlier this month and a community group has started a Change.org petition with the ultimate goal of killing the KED.
Last month, the city’s elected officials OK’d the next step in the KED development, which gave staff the direction to proceed with the work required. Couns. Geoff McCausland (Ward 4), Mark Signoretti (Ward 1) and Michael Vagnini (Ward 2) opposed the resolution.
Next month, city council is expected to receive an update on the project and decide on some next steps, such as scheduling.
As the city’s elected officials close in on the finish line, it’s worth a refresher on where their heads are currently at as it relates to this project, which includes a $100-million capital investment by the municipality and cost-sharing agreements with partners.
Sudbury.com reached out to the City of Greater Sudbury’s mayor and 12 councillors by email earlier this month, asking them the following question: “If you had your druthers, what would be the next step in the Kingsway Entertainment District project?”
This email was followed up by phone calls. In the end, Sudbury.com was unable to connect with Mayor Brian Bigger or Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre despite repeated attempts.
Mayor Brian Bigger: No response
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti: More information needed
For Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, the ideal next step in the Kingsway Entertainment District would be if the City of Greater Sudbury shared more information with both city council and the general public.
The latest report by PricewaterhouseCoopers did not answer all of councillors’ questions about the project, and Signoretti said they do not have enough information to make informed decisions.
“I didn’t support the report because it was flawed in so many fashions,” he said, adding that things such as social and environmental impact reports should have been included.
Mayor Brian Bigger’s habit of muting microphones during council meetings has also been detrimental to drawing out pertinent information, Signoretti said.
“What’s the rush? We’ve waited this long, so why not at least allow the councillors who asked those questions … to get that information?”
Signoretti would also like to see stronger guaranteed commitments from the KED’s partners.
Although the project is envisioned as an entertainment district, with a municipal arena, private hotel and casino, he wants to see more “skin in the game” from these partners.
“My biggest fear is that council moves forward with scheduling and everything, and then what happens if one of the partners doesn’t come to the table or changes their mind, or the scale of the project that they were proposing is a smaller version?”
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini: Put the KED on pause
With so much uncertainty in the world right now, Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini wants to see the KED put on pause until the other side of the pandemic is finally reached.
“My philosophy is, we’re coming out of a pandemic, we don’t know what it’s going to look like in a year’s time,” he said. “One year is not going to make a difference. We don’t know what one year is going to look like from an economic perspective for the city.”
The city should be spending money on the community’s needs and not its wants right now, he said.
“Don’t worry about these large-scale projects.”
It’s a shame the city preemptively borrowed $205 million in 2019, taking advantage of low interest rates to help fund the KED and other capital projects -- a decision he joined Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti in voting against at the time.
“Just hold our breath, don’t try to do these legacy projects to get re-elected if that’s what they’re doing, and just focus on holding the money, holding the money, until we see the light of day.”
Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier: Defer the KED to the next council
In his response to the question, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier pointed to a letter to the editor he was already working on, which outlined his history and opinion on the Kingsway Entertainment District, which he referred to instead as the Kingsway hockey arena.
“After years of grandiose unfulfilled promises and drama, no outside building commitments, all lacking accurate information, this 80’ by 200’ single pad standalone hockey arena proposal should be shelved,” he said. “Deferred until this or next council has all the facts.”
With current uncertainty related to inflated building material costs and trade labor shortages, he said the actual building costs are up in the air alongside unresolved environmental costs and implications.
Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland: Reconsider the KED
If Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland had his druthers, the Kingsway Entertainment District would be reconsidered.
“I’m one of the councillors that thinks this is a grave mistake,” he said of the KED, adding that council needs to consider a recent report from city administration that highlighted how the city is underfunding its assets.
For the City of Greater Sudbury to maintain its assets in their current state, they’d have to spend an estimated $100 million more per year.
Further, he said situating the KED in a location off the beaten path is regressive city planning.
“I look at the examples around us, and ... we’re blasting into the past to the ‘70s when this was a new hip idea,” he said, adding it would be better to have the arena or entertainment district more accessible to the general public, who do not all have access to a vehicle.
The idea it’s a done deal at this stage is false, he said, as the city’s elected officials still have the opportunity to right the ship.
Failing the KED’s cancellation, McCausland said he’d at least like to have the city obtain better guarantees from the project’s partners and for answers to city council’s many unanswered questions.
“I still think this is a terrible decision, but if it’s going to go forward we need to put better measures in place to protect our investment and make sure the plan is realized as originally envisioned.”
Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan: Proceed
Greater Sudbury city council has already decided what the next steps will be, and Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan wrote that he will support the direction of city council.
Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre: No response
Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo: Proceed
Remaining consistent with the same stance on the KED he said he’s shared since 2015, Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo is in favour of the project proceeding as planned, as the majority of city council has thus far voted in favour of doing.
Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer: Proceed
“I guess I don’t have any druthers at this point, I just want to see us move on with the building and get it going,” Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer said.
“This conversation has gone on really since 2008 when they started talking about a new arena, let alone 2017 fast-forward to now.
“We are in need of a new facility and I think it’ll do all the things we hope it will do for the community. It’s progressive, it moves us forward and certainly, there will be benefits for the whole community.”
Council has already voted in favour of the project, he said.
“Let’s carry on.”
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh: No comment
“I have no comment on this topic,” Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh wrote in emailed correspondence.
Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier: No comment
“I have no comment at this time,” Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier wrote in emailed correspondence.
Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc: Proceed
“We’re moving forward with the project — there’s nothing in our way, other than now with … bringing a court order to us, which really isn’t going to stall what we’re doing at this point in time because there is no court order to stop what we’re doing.”
The court order in question is on behalf of the Minnow Lake Restoration Group, which Lindsay is president of, and which alleges the city’s elected officials have not had all relevant information available to them during their decision-making processes in relation to the KED.
Regardless of this, he said Greater Sudbury city council has put the wheels in motion and that it’s only a small group of people trying to stop it.
“They can’t see the big vision; how this is going to enhance Sudbury,” he said.
As it stands, he said he looks forward to celebrating the KED’s grand opening in either the summer or fall of 2024.
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann: Proceed
“Council has decided and so we should comply with that decision,” Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann wrote in emailed correspondence.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.