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Council approvals might remove the KED as a municipal election issue

If city council approves a project completion agreement this year as expected, the Kingsway Entertainment District might be set in stone in advance of the 2022 municipal election
KED sign
A sign on the eastern end of the Kingsway advertising the Kingsway Entertainment District. (File)

The wheels are in motion for the Kingsway Entertainment District to be set in stone before the Oct. 24 election, potentially removing the contentious issue from candidates’ platforms. 

During this week’s city council meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti – a long-time KED opponent – questioned whether the current city council could bind future councils.

“It certainly is a regular practice that contracts and projects in municipalities will span from one council to another, so it is envisioned that councils of the day would enter into arrangements or contracts that would commit to various projects,” city solicitor and clerk Eric Labelle responded to the councillor’s question. 

“The next council could potentially decide to set aside a contractual arrangement or decide to take a different approach that may present liability for the municipality and in some cases might present a very substantial liability, but that would certainly be at the discretion of the future council at that point.”

On the table is a project completion agreement, which all of the KED partners, including the city, are expected to sign early in the third quarter of this year and legally bind them to completing their respective shares of the project.

The city is expected to build a municipal arena, Gateway Casinos is expected to build a casino and Genesis Hospitality is expected to build a hotel. 

The agreement will be negotiated during the next three to four months and include a construction schedule for each of the facilities to co-ordinate their completion dates. A draft of the agreement will be presented to city council in a closed meeting prior to its execution. 

Further, the city is expected to sign onto the agreement after the final project budget and the design-build contract is awarded.

The city is still committed to moving forward with the project, but only if Gateway Casinos moves forward with a casino and Genesis Hospitality moves forward with a hotel. 

It remains to be seen whether this city’s latest projected timeline will be realized. 

Gateway Casinos put their investment on hold shortly before site preparation work was scheduled to commence on Nov. 29. They cited an ongoing OPP investigation of an alleged bribery attempt related to city council’s site selection decision and a legal challenge by the Minnow Lake Restoration Group as their key points of concern. With Gateway pushing pause, site preparation work did not take place as scheduled.

The OPP is declining to comment on their investigation until it has concluded and the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the court system out of schedule, so it’s unclear when these matters will be dealt with.

Plus, as with every step in the KED process, it’s expected that city council will remain divided during upcoming decision points related to the project, although a majority has consistently voted in its favour.

“My concern is continuing down a path where we have no opportunity or binding the next council (which) may be having to take a different direction because of the climate that we’re currently in and the climate may look like in the future,” Signoretti said. 

“We are still in a pandemic, and we’ve seen one of our so-called partners put pause on something realizing the impact, and they’re a partner that can assume high risk because it’s their money, where we’re using taxpayers’ money. And if they’re willing to push pause I find it very concerning that we wouldn’t do the same realizing we’re all working from home.”

Site preparation work is expected to begin after the project completion agreement is signed in the early third quarter of the year, event centre construction is to begin sometime between November of this year and January 2023 and the new grand opening estimate is 2025. 

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