Kirwan: The KED may not be dead after all

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Man running for re-election in Ward 5 says there’s no question the city needs a new events center but how long can Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich wait for it – the new council must be seriously ready, the arena -Question to address local elections on October 24th

It’s starting to look like KED might not be dead after all. It also looks like downtown arena renovation is no longer an option if we want to keep the Sudbury Wolves. let me explain.

During our September 13 meeting, the City Council was presented with a staff motion that would have allowed us to terminate all contracts and end all obligations with the Greater Sudbury Arena/Event Center project, except for the delay in completing the Progressive Design Build RFP and Venue Operator RFP through July 31, 2023. It has also been recommended that the city delay the reassignment of the property to the developer until the same date. I filed this motion and District Court 11. Bill Leduc endorsed it.

In my opinion it made sense to pause the two RFPs and hold the land until we receive a report in the second quarter of 2023 giving an overview of the options available to City Council in relation to the future of an event center in Sudbury . At that point the new council would be in a position to assess the potential for a refurbishment of the Sudbury Community Arena or the construction of a new events center in the city center or elsewhere in the city.

After extensive discussion, Councilors Gerry Montpellier (District 3) and Fern Cormier (District 10) introduced an amendment to immediately terminate all contracts and obligations, including the two RFPs, and return the land to the developer. The change was supported by a majority of Council members.

Then, on September 16, Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich unveiled a new $600,000 video billboard stating, “I just want everyone in Sudbury to experience hockey like they’ve never experienced it before. Especially the last few years we’ve been in this barn. We won’t be here much longer. And I can only tell you one thing, the Sudbury Wolves will be playing in a brand new arena somewhere very soon.”

Mr Zulich appeared to make it clear that once his current lease at the Sudbury Community Arena expires, his team will play in a ‘new’ venue, not a refurbished arena. His lease expires on May 31, 2024. It includes three renewals of one year each until the final expiry date on May 31, 2027.

Mr Zulich has not indicated a preference for where a new events center is to be built so it seems he would be perfectly fine to play either in the town center or another suitable location in Greater Sudbury. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the Kingsway.

He also didn’t specifically say he was moving his franchise out of town. However, if you sit down and analyze the situation closely, Mr. Zulich may be forced to move to another city instead of waiting for the city council, unless the new council intends to build a new events center in the next few years to make a final decision.

For example, the best location for a new downtown event center would be on the lot between Shaughnessy Street and Minto Street. This footprint would allow for a smaller facility than proposed on the Kingsway and would likely cost no more than $120 million.

However, downtown construction would require the purchase of a number of lots on that block. If the owners don’t want to sell, it would require an eminent domain that would take up to 18 months and most likely cost the city at least $20 million to acquire the properties. It would also require a new parking garage structure to replace the current parking lots that would be lost on this property, resulting in an additional cost of approximately $40 million.

So the total cost of a new downtown event center is at least $180 million at today’s prices, and that doesn’t include additional site preparation costs.

However, the identical $120 million convention center could be built on the Kingsway with little to no cost of land or parking and only additional cost of site preparation. So it stands to reason that the only fiscally viable option for the City Council might be to locate the ‘new’ events center on Kingsway as part of the KED development.

In my opinion, Mr. Zülich seems to have started the clock with a hard deadline of May 31, 2027. If there isn’t a firm commitment from the city to build a new event center with an opening date of September 2027 at the latest, then it’s quite possible that Mr. Zülich will have to relocate his team from the city. And that commitment would have to be set in stone without delay and with the strong majority of the city government.

It is now imperative for all mayoral and council candidates to make their position clear. We need to find out if they are willing to refurbish the Sudbury Community Arena or are willing to consider building a new events center in the most cost effective location. You will recall that the majority of our current city council considered renovating the downtown arena back in 2015. At that time we realized that the investment was not worth it and decided to build a new event center instead.

As Ward 5 Councillor, I do not support the option of refurbishing the Sudbury Community Arena. I remain very committed to evaluating all options for a new venue and will be committed to supporting a location that will provide the greatest long-term economic benefit to the city at the lowest cost and risk.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in the city center or somewhere else. But we need a new events center and I’m confident we can build one that is financially viable.

There seems to be no doubt that the event center location is back on the table and will be a big campaign issue. I don’t want to lose the Sudbury Wolves and if we don’t have the Sudbury Wolves we have no reason to spend tens of millions of dollars on some renovated or new venue.

Robert Kirwan is seeking re-election for the Greater Sudbury Council seat at Ward 5.

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