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Arena consultant says new Sudbury event centre could be built cheaper, with less risk and more reward

PricewaterhouseCoopers again backs Kingsway Entertainment District as best spot for venue over downtown location
Kingsway Entertainment District conceptual

An updated report analyzing locations for Greater Sudbury’s new event centre has backed the Kingsway Entertainment District (KED) as the best location, over the city's downtown, offering the biggest bang for the lowest buck.

While city council will be discussing the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report at a special June 16 council meeting, the consultant's document was released on the city’s website this week.

In calling for the report back in January, Mayor Brian Bigger said he wasn’t looking to re-argue the locations. With four years having passed since city council backed the KED as the site for the city’s new event centre, Bigger said he felt it was important to compile all the information into one document and to update any information that might have changed since 2017.

Namely, Bigger wanted to answer two questions:

1. Since 2017, have any of the elements about the project changed such that its potential for producing the desired outcomes is markedly different?, and;

2. Since 2017, and especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have there been any changes in the operating environment that would affect the project’s success?

The bottom-line from the new report is that PwC’s analysis indicates the KED would offer the most benefits for the least cost and the least amount of risk.

“Overall direct benefits associated with the Kingsway site are estimated to be greater,” PwC stated, clarifying that any ancillary benefits from building downtown are possible, while the KED, if the project proceeds as planned, would have ancillary benefits built in.

“Expectations are that planned projects (casino, hotel, conference centre) at the Kingsway site will be constructed upon final confirmation of the new events centre. The foregoing compares with the downtown site where, based on precedent experiences of other municipalities, the potential for additional ancillary / complementary development could occur (emphasis from the report); the exact form or nature of which is currently not known.”

Meanwhile, the costs for both locations have risen in the past four years, but those costs are higher downtown, the report concludes.

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The Kingsway Entertainment District is a proposed $100-million arena and event centre development on the eastern outskirts of the city, close to Sudbury's heavily trafficked big box shopping area at The Kingsway and Falconbridge Road. 

The proposed 6,500-seat arena would replace the 5,800-seat downtown Sudbury Community Arena, built in 1951. It would be the city's main arena. The Sudbury Wolves Ontario Hockey League franchise would be the main tenant. 

PwC pegs the centre on the Kingsway to cost $15,000 to $16,000 a seat, or $113.8 million total (which includes the parking lot), compared to up to $128.6 million to modernize Sudbury Arena (which does not include the need for a parking structure). Building a new arena downtown would cost approximately $115.8 million (again not including parking).

The report also compares the two locations in terms of developments that have occurred since 2017, stating the Kingsway location has seen more advancement than downtown in terms of an events centre.

Modernizing the Sudbury Arena to bring it to a comparable level to a new events centre includes several limitations, PwC stated.

Whether approached in a single phase (which would save a few million dollars) or two phases, modernizing would impact operations, resulting in the loss of two full season for a single phase or impact three seasons if undertaken in two phases.

This is particularly important, PwC said, because the period of late 2021 to 2023 is expected to be a boom time for events as public demand is expected to be very high as pandemic restrictions ease. 

PwC also concluded that modernizing Sudbury Arena would require more taxpayer subsidies to operate than the Kingsway site and land acquisition efforts would be more challenging and costly. The report pointed out the city has also moved forward on “catalyst” projects downtown, namely the Junction East arts centre project, the Places des Arts cultural centre, and the Le Ledo commercial development proposal to redevelop the Ledo Hotel, which would support a revitalization of downtown.

Development of the Kingsway site is further along, the report concludes, with a memorandum between the city, the property owner and Gateway Casinos in place.

The report also references interest from hotel chains and letters of intent for leasing or purchasing property in the area for commercial and retail uses. It further mentions the possibility of a film and television studio being developed on the site.

PwC concluded the KED could generate up to 1,600 new jobs and generate around $4.264 million in taxes per year, if all aspects of the project move forward.

With attendant benefits, a downtown event centre could support around 800 jobs and generate around $1.999 million in taxes per year.