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Sudbury councillors end debate on fresh arena report, perhaps clearing the way for the KED

Motion passes by 7-6 count

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A surprise motion at the four-hour mark has ended discussion about a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers detailing three location options for a new events centre.

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Just as Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland was tabling (and then retracting) a motion aimed at learning more about the merits and costs of a downtown arena renovation, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan introduced a late-game motion to end all discussion surrounding the PwC report that was presented to council Wednesday evening.

The motion passed 7-6, essentially muzzling criticism of the report and paving the way forward for the Kingsway Entertainment District.

Mayor Brian Bigger explained that Kirwan’s motion does not end discussion on the KED or location options downtown, but it will stop further discussion about the PwC report.

In February, Bigger ordered an updated report from PwC detailing the three options for an events centre, which included The Kingsway; a new arena downtown; and a renovated arena downtown.

That report was made public earlier this month. Consultants determined The Kingsway would be a preferable location, with the least amount of risk and the best long-term economic impact.

According to updated figures, the report indicated it would cost $115.8 million to build downtown, versus $113.8 million to go forward with the KED. The costs associated with land, site development and off-site improvement alone could range from about $17.4 million to more than $23 million for either project. A retrofit of the current arena would carry a price tag of as much as $128.6 million, PwC indicated in the update.

The KED had been controversial since its inception.

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In November 2015, Dario Zulich presented his idea for an arena to council. During that meeting, John Arnold of Dalron also presented his idea for an arena, to be located in the South End, but he soon abandoned his plan and threw his weight behind the campaign for a downtown barn.

In June 2017, council accepted a report by PwC that determined downtown was a preferable location for an events centre. To move forward, the cohort had to vote on the two top contenders.

First, council voted on the downtown location, but the option was lost to a 6-6 tie (Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier did not vote). Second, council voted on the Kingsway. It won by a vote of 10-2; only Couns. Mark Signoretti (Ward 1) and Fern Cormier (Ward 10) voted against the Kingsway.

Since 2017, the city has been divided. There has been vehement opposition to the KED. Twelve appeals were filed with the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal; 11 were heard, but ultimately all were rejected.

Tom Fortin also sued the City of Greater Sudbury in Superior Court, alleging bias and fettering. He lost that case and chose not to file an appeal.

With the legal obstacles out of the way, the city signed cost-sharing agreements with its three partners, including Gateway Casinos, responsible for the casino and restaurants; the hotel, represented by Zulich; and Zulich, responsible for the remaining lands. The city would be responsible for the costs related to the events centre.

“All partners are working together and are committed to the successful completion of the project, as evidenced by the signing of the cost-sharing agreement,” the city said on its website. “The cost-sharing agreement focuses particularly on the common areas/works and blasting. Each partner is responsible for the development of their own site, including buildings and parking lots.”

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Critics of the KED, including Montpellier and Signoretti, have pointed out on several occasions that since its inception, a hotel operator has never been confirmed for the KED. Signoretti pointed out on Wednesday the future of Gateway Casinos could become precarious, since the company has had to take out a loan from the government “in order to stay afloat.”

Signoretti on Wednesday launched into questioning Ron Bidulka, the PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant, like a prosecutor driven by a mission to expose a truth. He focused on the case studies Bidulka presented, which all focused on arenas located in their respective downtowns.

McCausland followed his colleague’s example, questioning Bidulka and Conrad Boychuk, an architect with ian mckay architect inc., based in Coquitlam, BC. The firm was hired to reimagine the current Sudbury Arena.

McCausland wanted to know why Bidulka attributed 1,000 jobs to the film studio, as part of his endorsement of the KED. As McCausland pointed out, Tammy Frick, associate executive director of CION, told The Star in April that Freshwater Production Studios, which will be located immediately east of the KED, on lands currently owned by Zulich, will be a separate parcel of land. Besides its proximity, there is no correlation and the two are independent projects, she explained.

When asked whether the film studio is contingent on the KED, Frick said, “it doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with the KED. This is the Freshwater Productions campus; it’s a completely different development and it has nothing to do with the KED. It’s not at all attached to that future development, none whatsoever. There is no correlation.”

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Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini asked why the updated report lacked several things council asked for earlier this year. He also pointed out several of the ancillary amenities promised during the early days of the KED — a motor sports park, a water park, a drive-in theatre, the Fabio Belli soccer dome — have not and likely will not come to fruition.

Vagnini seemed a bit incredulous, pointing out the shortcomings of the report; for example, it completely overlooked projectNOW.

The PwC report did get some applause from Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, s requested by couWard 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan and Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo. All are ardent supporters of the KED.

Late in the evening, McCausland briefly tabled a motion requesting a more fulsome review of an arena renovation, but he quickly pulled it and said he would introduce it properly at a later meeting.

That prompted Kirwan to introduce his motion to end discussion on the PwC report. The whole process was over in less than five minutes. Eric Labelle, the city clerk, did not even have time to post the motion to a screen before the vote took place.

How they voted (7-6):

  • Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti: no
  • Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini: no
  • Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier: no
  • Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland: no
  • Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan: yes
  • Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre: yes
  • Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo: yes
  • Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer: yes
  • Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh: no
  • Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier: no
  • Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc: yes
  • Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann: yes
  • Mayor Brian Bigger: yes

mkkeown@postmedia.com
Twitter: @marykkeown
Facebook: @mkkeown
705 674 5271 ext. 505235

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