Now might not be the best time for the City of Greater Sudbury to move forward with large, non-essential projects such as Junction East and Kingsway Entertainment District.
This is the premise behind two separate motions coming forward at Tuesday’s city council meeting, with Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc targeting Junction East and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier putting the KED in his crosshairs.
Leduc’s motion resolves “that the City of Greater Sudbury direct staff to bring back a report by the end of the first quarter of 2022 assessing the potential implications of suspending the Junction East project until a future period.”
The Junction East project is a central library and art gallery slated for downtown Greater Sudbury. The 62,000-square-foot project was originally priced at approximately $46.5 million, but city council learned in July 2021 that construction costs had increased by 21 per cent since 2018.
“We’re now entering a new world,” Leduc said. “This was approved back in 2017 when we were in a normal world, now we’re not in a normal world anymore. Ontario’s been shut down, we’ve rolled back (to modified Stage Two of the Roadmap to Reopen), we’ve seen reduced capacity, a lack of travelling – there’s all sorts of issues going on.”
With more people working from home and fewer people visiting downtown, where the city’s homelessness crisis has manifested in an encampment at Memorial Park alongside security concerns, Leduc said this project might no longer fit the city.
“I’m seeing other downtowns do it differently,” he said.
“You’ve got to create housing. If you don’t have housing, you’re not going to have a thriving downtown, so we have the property there, do we change directions and put housing there? Where do we create housing? I need more of a report that’s going to look at downtown.”
Leduc clarified that his intent isn’t necessarily to halt the project, but to seek more information in order to better inform city council as to how or if the project should proceed.
“I need more information on the risks, the challenges and the security of downtown,” he said. “You can build something downtown, but if people in this city are not secure enough to go downtown we’re going to have a white elephant.”
Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area managing director Kyle Marcus declined to comment on this story.
Montpellier’s motion resolves that “city staff is hereby directed to gather and present to council all existing pertinent, committed, signed sureties, and commercial risks by all partners to the KED project identifying clearly the risks that are now appearing, in order to provide open and transparent accurate information to the taxpayers of Greater Sudbury.”
Although his motion is a request for information, Montpellier’s preamble points to his opposition to the project. It cites the City of Calgary backing out of their arena project due to escalating costs, the 4.7-per-cent inflation jump and a 13.6-per-cent rise in non-residential construction costs during the third quarter of 2021, in addition to increases in insurance, gas and heating bills.
Similar to Leduc’s motion, Montpellier said his intent isn’t to halt anything but to provide city council with information they require to move forward, if they choose to do so.
His ongoing concern is that the KED will end up being a standalone arena, with the hotel and casino partners dropping off and that “taxpayers will be stuck paying for the whole thing.”
An existing cost-sharing agreement between partners for $9.73-million in site-preparation expenses would have kicked in when work was scheduled to commence on Nov. 29, but Gateway Casinos put things on hold before that could happen.
“Now, what happens if council decides to go with this thing tomorrow?” Montpellier asked, clarifying that his motion is “about getting the best deal for taxpayers.”
While Montpellier is not supportive of the Junction East expense and would prefer if the city invested in existing infrastructure, Leduc remains supportive of the KED moving forward.
Unlike Junction East, which has received little by way of updates since the pandemic started, city council received an updated PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the KED last year.
“I want to do the right thing for the citizens, so I need this information,” Leduc said. “I think it’s going to be a good discussion, and I hope council will be positive and support this motion.”
Tuesday’s city council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. An agenda for the meeting and a livestream can be found by clicking here.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.