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Zulich’s ‘brand new arena’ comment raises questions

On Friday, Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich ambiguously stated, 'Very soon we'll be playing in in a brand new arena somewhere,’ raising questions about what the new incarnation of city council might face upon their Oct. 24 election
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Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich speaks at the Sudbury Community Arena on Friday during the unveiling of a new scoreboard, at which he said, “Very soon we’ll be playing in a brand new arena somewhere.”

With Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich ambiguously stating a “brand new arena” is close on the horizon for the hockey team, questions have been raised.

“We won't be here much longer,” Zulich said during Friday’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, somewhere," he added, making reference to finishing out the “last few years of our lease.”

“We're not gonna be here forever, I can tell you that.  Soon we'll be playing in a brand new arena somewhere."

The Sudbury Wolves’ current lease with the Sudbury Community Arena expires on May 31, 2024, and includes three one-year extensions until the final expiration date of May 31, 2027. The Sudbury Five basketball team, which Zulich also owns and operates out of the downtown arena, maintains a year-to-year lease with the city.

Zulich was a key partner/land developer for the Kingsway Entertainment District – a municipal arena/events centre proposed to be accompanied by a private casino and hotel at a property on The Kingsway he owns.

The arena/events centre was intended to replace the 70-year-old Sudbury Community Arena until cost overruns resulted in city council rejecting the $215-million proposal in July. 

The KED’s cancellation has resulted in uncertainty as to how, or whether, the city will proceed with a new or renewed arena. Although city council selected The Kingsway as the preferred location for a new arena/events centre in 2017, other locations were also considered. 

An alternate plan included renovating the existing Sudbury Community Arena. Although city staff have clarified the aging arena is holding up quite well, it will require millions of dollars in renovations in the coming years to remain viable.

The city currently has approximately $84.8 million set aside for an arena project, having already spent $5.2 million of the $90 million they secured in debt for the KED.

Although Zulich definitively clarified in conversation with Sudbury.com in April the Sudbury Wolves “will never leave Sudbury,” Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan said he isn’t so certain.

“When you sit down and analyze the situation closely, unless it is the will of the new council to build a new arena within the next several years, Mr. Zulich may be forced to relocate to another city,” he wrote in a recent post to the Valley East Facebook page he moderates. 

“It is now imperative for all candidates for Mayor and Council to make their position clear. We need to find out if they are committed to renovating the Sudbury Community Arena or to building a new replacement.”

This commitment must also be to construct said arena in the most cost-effective location, Kirwan said, adding a downtown location may be cost-prohibitive. Earlier reports indicated prior downtown options would be more expensive than The Kingsway.

Kirwan has been one of the most outspoken KED proponents on city council. The Kingsway location is within Ward 11, whose councillor, Bill Leduc, has also been a longtime advocate.

In conversation with Sudbury.com, Leduc echoed Kirwan’s concern the Wolves may be forced to relocate, and that if not for the team as an anchor tenant, there’s no need for a new arena. 

“There are other municipalities that would welcome the opportunity for a semi-professional team like the Wolves to come and play in their city,” he said.

As for Zulich’s comment regarding a “brand new” arena pointing to his desire for a new arena rather than a renewal of the existing space, Leduc said it should be up to the public.

“The public is so fed up right now that I think we have to go back out to the public and actually get their opinion as to what way they want to move forward with,” he said. 

Taking note of the ambiguity of Zulich’s comments, Outspoken KED opponent, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said he hopes he’ll honour his prior statement that the Wolves will never leave Sudbury.

“He’s a businessman, he’s got to take care of his business and I’m happy he’s passionate about the Wolves and hockey in the north,” Signoretti said, adding there’s certainly enough support in the Greater Sudbury area for the hockey club to find continued success.

“I’m hoping that we can work with him to improve the arena situation for the Wolves, but it has to make sense financially for the taxpayers of Greater Sudbury.”

In an open letter sent to mayor and council, Canadian Association for Retired Persons Sudbury Chapter president John Lindsay said the death of the KED offers a good opportunity for the city council elected on Oct. 24 to revisit a potential renewal of the historic downtown arena.

Sudbury.com has reached out to this year’s entire slate of candidates for city council to inquire how they believe the city should proceed with a new or renewed arena (or if the city should), what role the city should play and whether they have a cost limit in mind.

The resulting story, highlighting what all responding candidates say, will run later this week.

As for mayoral candidates, Lindsay indicated there’s an all-candidates meeting scheduled to take place at the Parkside Older Adult Centre (140 Durham St.) on Oct. 1 beginning at 1:30 p.m. Hosted by Canadian Association for Retired Persons and the Sudbury Arts Council, it will be another opportunity for mayoral candidates to highlight their platforms. 

Sudbury.com has reached out to Zulich for comment, who indicated he intends to respond soon.

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