Greater Sudbury city council was unanimous in rejecting administration’s proposal for a $215-million Kingsway Entertainment District (KED) during its July 12 meeting.
Between this and a failed proposal to pare down the project to $150 million, the long-discussed KED is now effectively dead.
The meeting was the latest in a series of go/no-go moments of city council for the municipal arena/events centre project, but this the first time since its 2017 approval when a majority of city council members took a no-go stance.
The proposal for an alternative $150-million project was brought forward by Coun. Robert Kirwan and Coun. Bill Leduc, who were alone in supporting it.
Their proposal would have allowed the city to proceed into the next phase of the progressive design-build process, which would have lasted a few months and cost approximately $3 million.
“At least this way it gets us to the second state to potentially see if the events centre can be built for $150 million,” Leduc said. “It’s looking to reduce the price, obviously, which I think might be obtainable.”
The chief argument against the alternative project is that it wouldn’t produce the same building a narrow majority of city council has consistently supported for the past five years.
Taking aim at Coun. Robert Kirwan’s assertion a $150-million municipal arena/events centre might be “good enough,” Coun. Fern Cormier said, “Boy oh boy, is that what we want to be? That’s what we would spend $150 million on?”
“I cannot support spending $150 million on producing a pretty good arena when we already have a pretty good arena,” Coun. Geoff McCausland later added, pointing to the existing 70-year-old Sudbury Community Arena downtown.
Although the project’s private partners, including Genesis Hospitality (hotel), Gateway Casinos (casino) and developer Dario Zulich affirmed last week that they remained on board with the project, it remains to be seen where they stand following yesterday's decision of city council.
Up until the meeting, the approved budget for the KED has been $100 million, which has included $90 million in debt and $10 million in fundraising. Last week’s report by city engineering services director David Shelsted was the first indication the price had reached $215 million.
With yesterday's vote effectively killing the KED, city strategic initiative, communications and citizen services director Ian Wood told Sudbury.com a report will be drafted to formalize the discontinuation of the project.
The process has been “designed for this decision point for council,” he said, adding that without signed agreements obligating them to anything beyond today there should not be any legal consequences to city council backing out of the project.
The city has spent approximately $3.7 million on the project to date, plus “at least a half-million” in outstanding invoices, Shelsted told Sudbury.com.
Exact numbers will be hashed out in a report to city council in the near future alongside other requirements that might accompany their decision to kill the project. Included in this report will be details around reverting land essentially gifted to the city via nominal fee for the municipal arena/events centre back to the developer, Mayor Brian Bigger said.
It is not known what the city will do with whatever remains of the $90 million in debt they have already secured for the project, which its final cost will chip away at.
“I think the new council will decide what the priorities are,” Bigger told local media during a scrum following the meeting, at which he also clarified a refurbishment of the KED plan is unlikely any time soon given various points of ongoing global uncertainty.
In the hours leading up to the meeting, the current slate of mayoral candidates advocated for the next incarnation of city council, elected on Oct. 24, to decide how to proceed.
Several people attended the city council meeting carrying signs urging the city to kill the project and invest in the city’s downtown core. Before the meeting started, however, Tom Davies Square security informed them their signs would not be allowed inside the building.
“To me, it is silencing democracy and silencing opinions,” protester Denise Larocque told Sudbury.com outside the building, where they gathered to pose for a photo before putting their signs away.
This, fellow protester Patrick Crowe said, is in keeping with the city’s direction thus far.
“They’ve never actually solicited the opinions of the people of the city to see if they even want to have a giant arena built next to the very active non-decommissioned landfill,” he said.
“We don’t want to shut down democracy … and we do not want to be shut out of it.”
Recognizing the longstanding and passionate opposition to the KED, Coun. Deb McIntosh took a moment during the meeting to recognize the efforts of city staff and to clarify they have only followed the direction given to them by majority votes of city council.
“I’m sorry to the staff for the unfair public opinion, public criticism that they have had to experience,” she said, adding that those unhappy with what has transpired or how this project has ended should know the “buck stops” with city council.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.