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Sudbury council greenlights $98.5M downtown arts, culture centre

Slated to open in spring of 2025, project team hopes to 'hard cap' development costs against inflationary pressures

Newly projected to cost $98.5 million, the Junction East Cultural Hub received Sudbury city council’s go-ahead during its June 28 meeting, eliciting cheers from supporters sitting in the gallery.

The vote in favour of the new central library/art gallery building was near-unanimous at 11-2.

“Let’s get the priorities done and let’s leave the niceties for another time,” Coun. MIchael Vagnini said, adding that he wants to “err on the side of caution,” given today’s economic realities. 

While he also concerned about the project’s cost, Coun. Bill Leduc argued that a property overlooking Ramsey Lake should be looked at instead, as it would carry much greater potential.

Mayor Brian Bigger shot this notion down by pointing out that its current proposed location, on what is now a parking lot next to the Sudbury Theatre Centre on Shaughnessy Street in downtown Sudbury, has been long-established and worked toward by city administration.

Although the balance of city council voted in favour of the project, its current $98.5-million price tag still raised several councillors’ eyebrows. 

“Yes, I’m shocked at the price, that’s a fact,” Coun. Gerry Montpellier said during the meeting, later adding that he believes in the project because it will be owned by taxpayers and will help Greater Sudbury “shine.”

“This will make us look like a large city in Northern Ontario,” he said, and the community appears to largely support it despite its cost.

“There are no legal challenges, there are no objections, no protests,” he said, alluding to there being a very different story when it comes to the Kingsway Entertainment District. “This is impressive. This to me dictates something that is wanted.”

The building is anticipated to open in the spring of 2025, which is around the same time the Kingsway Entertainment District (municipal arena/events centre alongside a private hotel and casino) is projected to open in the city's east end.

Although the building’s key tenants will include a new central library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury and the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association, the library will fill out the lion’s share of its square footage. 

The 104,000-square-foot project’s original price tag was $46.5 million, although it has changed in scope and location since this estimate was first presented a few years ago.

Its cost was projected at $93.2 million in early May, but $3.6 million has been added to accommodate for a cost-escalation allowance in reaction to market conditions. The balance of the price jump has been attributed to “further refinement of some design details.”

“It has evolved from being a library with an art gallery to a community building housing a library, an art gallery and a multicultural centre,” said Ian Wood, the city's director of strategic initiatives, communications and citizen services.

Opening the building up more for the community resulted in a “larger, grander type of space … that’s very light and airy and much more appropriate to a modern type of municipal community building.”

“The project team is confident that this process will allow the project to be hard capped at $98.5 million and that this total project cost is adequate to deliver the project council has approved," according a report tabled by Wood.

With council approving Junction East, staff is expected to develop tender documents and detailed drawings necessary to issue a construction tender for the first quarter of 2023. The tender will be issued to the four recently prequalified bidders. A total of 10 companies took initial interest in the project, and all four of those to submit bids were prequalified. These include:

  • EllisDon Corporation (Mississauga)
  • Bird Construction Group (Mississauga)
  • Aquicon Construction Co. Ltd. (Brampton)
  • PCL Constructors Northern Ontario Inc. (Sudbury)

To fund the project, the city has proposed reallocating a $58-million debenture originally set aside for the defunct Junction West project (a nearby convention and performance centre alongside a private hotel), drawing $1 million from reserves, using $3.1 million from project partners and accepting $37.2 million from potential external funding.

A question mark lingers around the “external funding” component, although Wood clarified the city has already started reaching out to the federal and provincial governments and that conversations with the area’s two Liberal MPs, Viviane Lapointe (Sudbury) and Marc Serre (Nickel Belt) have been “extremely positive.”

In the event any of these funding sources do not bear fruit, city council has approved that funding can be provided via the 2023, 2024 and 2025 budget allocations toward capital projects (infrastructure).