With Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd. delaying site preparation work at the Kingsway Entertainment District, city council faces new challenges in pushing the project forward.
“It was both shocking and not surprising,” Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland told Sudbury.com. “I think that it’s really telling when even the casino won’t gamble on your project.”
On Monday, correspondence between city CAO Ed Archer and Gateway Casinos executive vice president development and construction Jagtar Nijjar was leaked to Sudbury.com, which explained why site preparation work didn’t commence that day as scheduled.
Citing an ongoing legal challenge by the Minnow Lake Restoration Group and an Ontario Provincial Police investigation of bribery claims by Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, Nijjar explained that now’s not the time for them to commit any further investment to the project, which is slated to include a municipal arena, a private Gateway casino and a private hotel which has yet to be named.
“It is not commercially reasonable for Gateway to continue to provide additional significant funding to the next phase of the project until these ongoing challenges are resolved and the entire scope of the project is confirmed to be moving ahead,” he wrote.
After posting his initial accusation on Facebook, Montpellier later denied he was offered a bribe from two individuals, one representing the developer and another representing Gateway, to support the Kingsway location.
This week, he told Sudbury.com, “It depends on your interpretation of a bribe.”
Declining further comment on the ongoing police investigation, he clarified the only thing he’s guilty of in this situation is refusing to profit from a city council decision.
During city council’s June 27, 2017 meeting, in which mayor and council voted on a location for the new arena, Montpellier declared a conflict of interest.
As for Gateway delaying progress on the KED, Montpellier said his warnings to his colleagues around virtual council chambers have been vindicated.
“The question is simple to me, did I expect it? Yeah,” he said. “As I’ve said all along … I’ve always maintained it wasn’t going to happen, I’ve always maintained it was a dream.”
When push comes to shove, he said that this project will end up being a very expensive standalone single-pad arena.
“This is no revelation to me,” he said, adding that it’s been long-established that there is no written build agreement among the partners, which include the City of Greater Sudbury, the developer, Gateway and an unnamed hotel being represented by the developer.
The only written agreement between these partners relates to site preparation work — a point city administration has confirmed and which Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan continues to argue on social media is, in fact, a build agreement.
Montpellier is seeking to clarify matters to the public in a motion he plans on presenting during the Dec. 14 city council meeting, which would resolve that council “directs staff to issue through public media notification that the only current build commitment for the KED is limited to the site preparation.”
Although Gateway has delayed things, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc said he wants people to understand that it’s only a delay and that the project’s partners are still committed to the project.
Leduc’s ward includes the KED property, west of the Sudbury Landfill Site off The Kingsway.
“It’s really unfortunate that Mr. Montpellier is able to fabricate an allegation that never existed, and once again is costing his residents, the residents of Sudbury, the ones we represent, all of Sudbury, money,” he said, adding that Montpellier “should come forward publicly now and apologize for the accusations.”
As for the Minnow Lake Restoration Group’s legal challenge, Leduc said it will fail and that he plans on pushing city administration to recover whatever legal costs they can from the organization.
This and past legal challenges have cost the city more than $850,000 as of latest update in September, and Leduc said he’s “calling for that money.”
The delays these legal challenges have caused are affecting progress in Greater Sudbury, he said.
“You’re taking money off people’s tables right now that could be employed, that were counting on these jobs.”
Taking a very different view, McCausland, who has been outspoken in his objection to the KED, pointed to the collection of difficult financial decisions they face during ongoing budget deliberations as reason enough to celebrate the KED’s delay.
“I think it’s a want, and when we look at this year’s budget we see all over it how much more we need to be spending every year to be able to maintain our capital infrastructure,” he said.
“The more that situation comes into focus, the more I believe that we need to stop with the wants and focus on our needs.”
Developer Dario Zulich issued a media release Tuesday that clarified the project remains viable and “will still be an exciting and viable project in a few months from now.”
“As a matter of principle, all partners must assist each other where possible as we move at the speed of business, post-COVID,” he wrote. “As such, we must respect Gateway and its position on risk assessment.
“The KED group has had to adjust our collective plans over the past few years to meet many challenges head on, including COVID. Council has repeatedly supported the KED at every challenge. All partners, including the hotelier, remain committed to their respective roles at the KED.
“Once these last few obstacles are overcome, we will continue forward together and ultimately see this transformational project for Greater Sudbury through to its successful completion.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.