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Sudbury Community Arena repurposing plan put on ice

Uncertainty of future arena causes council to rethink plan

With the Kingsway Entertainment District’s grand opening date cast into uncertainty, the city’s elected officials have decided to put the Sudbury Community Arena’s repurposing on hold.

The downtown arena’s anchor tenants — the Sudbury Wolves hockey team and Sudbury Five basketball team — are expected to join other user groups by shifting their operations to the KED as soon as it opens.

Last November, city council approved a motion for city staff to prepare a report that recommends the best way to ensure the vacated downtown arena and/or its property “fully contributes to downtown renewal efforts and sustains community vibrancy that includes, among other more technical steps, a plan for extensive public consultation.” 

The resulting report, by Ian Wood, the city's executive director for strategic initiatives, communications and citizen services, was presented to city council on April 26 and deferred to a later date.

Much has changed since the original motion for the report was presented several months ago, Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier told his colleagues, adding that it’s premature to consider any major changes to the Sudbury Community Arena and its surrounding property. 

“We’ve substantially changed the process by which we’re moving forward on that particular large project,” he said of the KED. “When this direction was given, the timelines were different, the decision points, the pivot points were different for council.”

There’s still a “proverbial dust still floating around in the air with respect to this looming decision we have to make,” he said, referencing a final “go or no-go” decision with respect to the KED.

A few weeks after the original motion to investigate repurposing the Sudbury Community Arena was tabled in November 2021, Gateway Casinos put their financial investment in the project on pause, which delayed site preparation work and effectively pushed its grand opening from 2024 to 2025. 

As part of this updated timeline, city council is expected to make a final decision on the KED's budget and a design/build request for proposals during the third quarter of the year, with construction to commence by the end of the year. 

Originally anticipated to remain within city’s original $100-million budget, a new RFP process was introduced earlier this month that carries an open-ended budget that acknowledges “current market risks, particularly with respect to inflation effects, supply chain reliability and labour availability,” according to a media release issued by the city at the time. 

Anything greater than the original $100-million price tag will require city council approval alongside the selection of a winning design/build applicant and a project completion agreement.

“The goal posts have changed, the decision timelines have changed,” Cormier said tonight.

Cheering on the repurposing process's deferral, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier affirmed that the downtown arena is serving its purpose just fine, with recent events such as Celtic Illusion performing well and the Monster Spectacular monster truck show selling out. According to the city’s seating chart, only 10 seats to Saturday’s show were still available as of the meeting.

There’s nothing wrong with the “old girl,” he said of the existing arena, citing today’s story in which Sudbury Wolves owner Dario Zulich affirmed that the team would remain in the Nickel City regardless of what happens with the KED.

Left unmentioned by Montpellier was the part of the story where OHL commissioner David Branch said the state of OHL teams’ host arenas are “critical” to each hockey organization and that newer facilities have much better broadcast capabilities, “which is critical in this day and age,” alongside improved spectator comfort and better facilities to develop players.

The KED's facilities will give the team “a fighting chance to make sure players come to Sudbury,” Zulich told last week.

During tonight’s meeting, all of city council except for Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, who co-authored the original motion in November, voted in favour of Cormier's motion to defer a closer look at repurposing the downtown arena until whatever city coucnil meeting follows their final decision on the KED.

The report to be considered at that time, pending the KED moves forward, proposes three key potential uses for the repurposed downtown arena and/or property:

  • A fully public project such as community housing or a new municipal facility.
  • A public/private partnership such as a combination of community housing and private residential or commercial space.
  • A fully private project with the property sold for a specific, private sector-driven project that benefits the community.

A three-phase process has been proposed by Wood for the site’s repurposing, which includes staff producing a document that summarizes the facility’s aspects, for this document to be part of a public consultation process and for the community’s suggestions to be evaluated for city council’s final decision early next year.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for