When news broke late last month that local developer Dario Zulich was buying the Sudbury Wolves, many people wondered what it meant for his $70 million proposal to build a new arena on land he owns on The Kingsway.
Would Zulich, CEO of TESC Contracting Company Ltd., a heavy industrial contracting firm, still be interested in the team if city council goes with another location?
Zulich answered that question Tuesday afternoon at a news conference, just a few days after he formally received the keys to the club.
"While I believe the best location of a new events centre is on our site on The Kingsway, I would like to emphasize that should the city decide to build a new arena elsewhere, the Wolves will be its greatest tenant," he told media and supporters gathered at Sudbury Arena.
"We all know we need a new events centre, one that offers something for everyone. I look forward to participating with the mayor and council in that process."
As for the Wolves, Zulich said his initial plan is to keep existing personnel in place until he sees how the team and staff perform.
"It's only my second day on the job, I'm still evaluating and really looking forward to seeing what we have,” he told reporters. “But at this point and time, I'm going to play with the players we got."
While the team has missed the OHL playoffs two years in a row, Zulich said his goal is to build a winning culture where the team is consistently in contention.
"I'm hoping the process will be quick," he said. "I'm a good manager, I believe. I'll make sure I get the right people in the right place in the right positions to develop a winning program."
Zulich has made headlines a few times in the last year, first as the face of a partnership looking to build the True North Strong events centre, and earlier in August when he bought the city's iconic water tower.
"This is not much different than my recent purchase of the water tower, with my intent to preserve it and develop it," he said Tuesday. "(But) I have to tell you it's a lot more fun to own a hockey team than it is to own a water tower."
While making clear that the Wolves will play in Sudbury Arena wherever it's built, Zulich urged the city to move the project forward as quickly as possible.
"I believe, as many of you do, that now is the time to build a world-class events centre for Greater Sudbury, he said. “There is no question that Greater Sudbury needs one, and the stars are now aligned to make this happen.
"But they will not stay aligned forever. Timing is critical. This community could use a boost to the local economy. We shouldn't allow events such as major concerts and family shows and sporting events to bypass us (in favour of) newer buildings in other cities."
While a motion is coming before city council next month from Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan calling for a decision before the end of the year, the original timeline was to have an RFP issued by June 2017.
And in an interview earlier this month, Mayor Brian Bigger said staff has committed to the June date. The city is hiring a consultant to come up with the criteria and preparation of the RFP. It's a complicated decision, Bigger said, and it's important that they get it right. But he said timelines could be moved.
"We're trying to see if there's a possibility of moving the RFP, advancing it slightly to, say, the end of March, to let the RFP out, but right now, the initial commitment from staff was end of June," he said.
For his part, Zulich said Tuesday that his focus will be on building a strong franchise in a true hockey market.
"This is a new era in the Sudbury Wolves hockey team," he said. "We want to win, and we want to win consistently, year in, year out. We want to be Memorial Cup contenders. We will operate a world-class hockey organization, one that everyone in the city will be proud of."
He also thanked former owners Mark Burgess and the Edwards family for their commitment to the team.
"It was important to Mark that the torch be passed on to a local person (with) passion for both the city and the team," Zulich said. "There were owners before Burgess, and there will be owners after me. But this team belongs to all of us. It is Greater Sudbury's team. I will always respect that."