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Zulich to push hard for a downtown arena/events centre

Dario Zulich, a local developer, owner of sports teams and partner in the now-cancelled Kingsway Entertainment District project, said he’s keen on a new arena/events centre downtown, and recently applied to join the Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area board
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Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area board members and proposed members are seen during a recent meet and greet. The latest group is, from left, Bobbi Deisinger, Kendra MacIsaac, Geoff McCausland, Dario Zulich, Jeff MacIntyre, Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée, Chris Tammi and Dan Guillemette. Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier, Wendy Watson, Tessa Balaz and Erin Danyliw are also on the proposed board.

Local developer and sports teams owner Dario Zulich said he’s going to push hard for a downtown events centre, as long as it’s a brand new facility.

The longtime Kingsway Entertainment District (KED) proponent has also applied to join the Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area board, and came together with the latest proposed slate of board members for a meet and greet and photograph last week.

“I’m going to go as hard as I can,” Zulich told Sudbury.com about supporting downtown. “I’m going to support the mayor and bring a new events centre downtown.”

Mayor Paul Lefebvre has joined a scattering of city council members in pushing for a downtown arena project, though it’s unclear what form it might take. Lefebvre hasn’t ruled out doing something with the existing downtown-based Sudbury Community Arena, at which the Zulich-owned Sudbury Wolves hockey and Sudbury Five basketball teams still play.

As he has from the start, Zulich is pushing for a new arena, and not a retrofit, refurbishment or renovation of the existing downtown building. When it comes to what the project should entail, Zulich said there has been some confusion about these terms, which are not interchangeable.

Retrofitting includes the addition of new features that were not present in the existing building. Refurbishment means cleaning, decorating and re-equipping a facility, which may include some elements of retrofitting. Renovation means keeping a facility in a good state of repair, which the city is already striving to do

On July 12, 2022, city council voted to cancel their involvement in the KED, which would have seen the development of an arena/events centre alongside a private casino and hotel at a property on The Kingsway. The proposed arena/events centre was intended to replace the Sudbury Community Arena, which was built in 1951 and considered outdated. 

Council’s vote to cancel the KED after its budget more than doubled to $215 million from an initial $100 million didn’t come as too great a surprise to Zulich, who told Sudbury.com the city is dealing with numerous important, competing priorities.

“At the end of the day, I’m not just sitting here since the end of July on my hands,” Zulich said, adding that he has been working on projects behind the scenes.

While clarifying that he’s “not finished with the KED yet,” he affirmed he would “be a supporter of putting an arena downtown.”

Last week, Zulich applied to join the Downtown Sudbury board. Alongside his involvement in the existing arena and the potential for a new arena/events centre, he said he also has a vested interest in the success of Sudbury’s downtown via properties his family owns and an eagerness to help the community.

“I’m going to divide my energy into two,” he said of the downtown effort and the property on The Kingsway he owns. “I’m going to support the BIA and the casino entertainment district.”

Although the city has pulled its involvement from the KED as previously planned, the Zulich-owned property west of the Sudbury Landfill Site on which it was proposed to be located (ownership of affected lands would have been with the city and the private casino and hotel developers) still carries potential. 

Last month, city council expressed early support for backing a new film studio, called Freshwater Production Studios, on Zulich’s property near where the KED was to be located.

The city’s Employment Land Strategy cites the Kingsway Industrial Area, located east of Falconbridge Road, as one of eight industrial areas to be prioritized to accommodate new industrial growth, though the report relied on the idea the KED was moving forward and would fund the land’s infrastructure needs.

The city’s downtown core has also been cited as a priority in the city’s Downtown Master Plan, which the new city council is expected to discuss updating

“An event centre is a key component of downtowns. It provides an important traffic generator for the area that helps attract hospitality businesses to the area,” past Downtown Sudbury BIA chair Jeff MacIntyre said in emailed correspondence.

“Those hospitality businesses in turn make the area vibrant well beyond the hours when we have events happening downtown, and help attract retail, offices and residential downtown.

"Downtown will always be an ecosystem of businesses and amenities, and we are super excited that the Wolves organization is fully supportive of locating downtown now.”

MacIntyre said that the city's downtown is beginning to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. He credits Zulich's application to join the board as a “sign to the entire community that it’s time to come together behind a vision rejuvenating our city’s core.” 

Although the proposed new board only recently got together for a quick meet and greet and photograph, MacIntyre said they appear to have “enough new energy to get some impressive things done in the next four years.”

The proposed new board includes Bobbi Deisinger, Kendra MacIsaac, Geoff McCausland, Dario Zulich, Jeff MacIntyre, Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée, Chris Tammi, Dan Guillemette, Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormer, Wendy Watson, Tessa Balaz and Erin Danyliw. Approval of the new board has yet to be ratified by city council, though MacIntyre said he doesn't recall anyone being declined in the past.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.