Whether Sudbury city council pursues a new downtown events centre build or a renovation of the existing Sudbury Community Arena remains up in the air following their Sept. 26 meeting.
The evening’s agenda included two proposed resolutions for city council’s consideration, including one that would have staff investigate a renovation of the existing downtown arena, and another to investigate a new events centre build in the city’s downtown core.
Although they were anticipated to select only one option, a successful motion by Mayor Paul Lefebvre will have staff investigate the implications of both.
“We need to explore both the cost and constraints and the opportunities of a renovation as well as if it’s a new build,” Lefebvre told his colleagues around council chambers.
“As we go to the taxpayers to make a historic investment in this downtown, I think we need to have all the facts in front of us as to what this looks like.”
Although various opinions were bandied about during the Sept. 26 meeting, the city’s elected officials ended up throwing unanimous support behind Lefebvre’s motion.
All members of city council were present during the meeting in person except for Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, who attended the meeting virtually. His connection was sporadic, and he did not speak up or vote on the arena matter.
One of the more unique opinions came from Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, who argued as he has in the past that the Sudbury Community Arena, which opened in 1951, serves the city well.
“What I’d like to see in the report is just leaving the old girl alone and putting the old lipstick on it and painting,” he said.
There’s no report necessary for this option, said Ian Wood, the city's executive director of strategic initiatives, communications and citizen services, noting that the estimated cost of keeping the arena in its status quo overall “fair” condition is $1.1 million per year for the next 10 years.
Additional investment would be required beyond that, he said, clarifying the estimate was only done for a 10-year period.
If city council proceeds with this option, Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann cautioned that 100 per cent status quo would not be adequate, as its accessibility features are “very poor,” which she said needs to be addressed.
During a tour of the facility with Sudbury.com earlier this year, local accessibility advocate Nadine Law affirmed that various improvements are required to make the arena accessible.
The Sept. 26 meeting saw Wood table his final report on the long-considered events centre project prior to his retirement.
Although the report highlighted some preliminary details regarding the implications of a new build versus a renewal/renovation of the existing arena, the facts it lays out could easily be interpreted as favouring a new build.
Three separate reports have investigated the potential redevelopment of the Sudbury Community Arena to address the fact the existing facility cannot meet the requirements of a modern events centre, and “could not practically be renovated to provide all contemporary features,” according to Wood’s report.
The existing building’s roof and supporting structure, he notes, “do not provide adequate height or provision of a modern private box level with associated amenities, or modern media facilities.”
This, he wrote, would limit the events/acts Greater Sudbury can attract and will continue to prevent the city from becoming an attractive market as part of various tours.
Inflated to 2023 dollars, the estimated cost of renovating the existing arena in these reports has ranged from $74 million to approximately $150 million. This range, Wood notes, does not fully reflect current market conditions.
A renovation of the existing building would also trigger compliance with the Ontario Building Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which Wood notes would increase the cost and extent of renovations.
Wood’s report noted that a renovation of the Sudbury Community Arena would extend its life by between 20 and 25 years, whereas a new build with an appropriate maintenance and asset renewal plan could last up to 100 years.
A new facility would take shape in the South District of Sudbury’s downtown core, which is described as being bound within Paris Street, Brady Street East, and Elgin Street.
The city would strive to attract private investment adjacent to the arena, including such amenities as a hotel and convention centre, parking structure and other commercial ventures.
“While there are economic impacts that can be realized through a renovated facility, it is not clear what the private sector interest might be for participating in the South District without the commitment of a new facility,” according to Wood’s report.
An update on the physical condition of the Sudbury Community Arena is slated to be included in the report city staff have been asked to table by the end of March 2024. This assessment is anticipated to cost $100,000. That is, unless what they find triggers more invasive testing, which Wood cautioned could drive the bill up another $500,000.
A new or renewed Sudbury Community Arena/events centre project has been a topic of public debate for several years, and previously took form as the proposed Kingsway Entertainment District.
The previous incarnation of city council effectively killed the Kingsway Entertainment District in July 2022, when they rejected its new price tag of $215 million, which was more than double its approved budget of $100 million.
The following is the full amended motion brought forward by Lefebvre:
That the City of Greater Sudbury directs staff to further explore both the renovation and the new build options described in the report entitled “greater Sudbury Event Centre Update and Future Direction,” presented by the CAO on Sept. 26, 2023, with an estimated cost of up to $200,000 and funding provided by the Event Centre Project budget, and
Further, that staff be directed to produce a report in March 2024 with the following components:
- a. The results of the analysis on the current Sudbury Community Arena recommended in the September 26, 2023, report.
- b. A recommended process and timeline for the design and construction of a renovated facility as part of the redevelopment of the South District that mitigates any impact on current tenants.
- c. A recommended process to construct and open a new build facility in 2027/28.
- d. An initial evaluation of the potential of both options described in b) and c) to attract complementary investment as part of a larger redevelopment of the South District.
- e. An estimated budget to complete each project option, based on city council’s 2017 list of required features for a new event centre, along with options for enhancements or reductions.
- f. A potential financing plan for both options.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.