The Cultural Hub at Greater Sudbury's government buildings complex, Tom Davies Square, is cleared to proceed, with a near-unanimous city council greenlighting a $65-million central library/art gallery.
City staff cited an estimated cost of $68.8 million, but Mayor Paul Lefebvre amended the proposed motion during this week's meeting to limit its budget to $65 million.
This keeps the project’s constraints within existing municipal coffers, Lefebvre clarified to his colleagues, and ensures they don’t go back to the taxpayer seeking more money.
The city’s elected officials also expressed support for a $65-million limit in February, which draws from $68 million in debt the city has already secured for the library/art gallery project and the mothballed Junction West convention centre (minus what has already been spent.)
“This is a transformative day for the City of Greater Sudbury,” Lefebvre told Sudbury.com after tonight’s meeting, adding that by bringing various groups together under one roof, the proposed building will live up to its “cultural hub” name.
“There are just so many good things here that are happening,” he said. “We’re creating this cultural hub, a centre to our community we never really had before.”
The Cultural Hub at Tom Davies Square is proposed to consist of a new central library to replace the existing building on MacKenzie Street, space for the Art Gallery of Sudbury (they would relocate from the Laurentian University-owned Bell Mansion) and new headquarters for the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association (they’d relocate from 196 Van Horne St.).
Tom Davies Square, at 200 Brady St., currently houses city hall. Various municipal offices would shift to an attached building to the immediate north, at 199 Larch St., which the city also owns.
Known as the provincial building due to it housing various provincial government offices, 199 Larch St. is approximately half empty. Municipal offices would shift to upper floors of the provincial building to make room at 200 Brady St. for the central library and 2,000 square feet for the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association.
The Art Gallery of Sudbury would take up the bottom two floors of 199 Larch St.
During tonight’s meeting, city council members were near-unanimous in supporting the $65-million plan, which includes expenses related to both 200 Brady St. and 199 Larch St.
The initial lone exception was Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, who voted no.
Coun. Bill Leduc missed the initial vote due to technical issues related to his virtual attendance, but later indicated he would have voted against the project.
Coun. Gerry Montpellier was not present.
There are always detractors, Coun. Fern Cormier told his colleagues during a brief speech in support of the Cultural Hub, noting there were detractors to the existing main branch library more than 70 years ago, as well as such buildings as Science North, the School of Architecture and Place des Arts.
These detractors are difficult to find now, he said, because these efforts were all successful.
Decisions such as these “are not made lightly, they’re rarely made unanimously, but they’re vital,” he added. “It’s vital we have the courage to move forward as a community to grow, to build, to embrace, and that’s what something like this will help us achieve.”
Applicants have been asking about such things as art galleries because they and their partners are seeking a certain quality of life, he said.
“When someone is accepting a job offer, they’re not just considering the job, they’re considering the quality of life in the community and all the amenities we discussed in the Cultural Hub are a huge part of that discussion,” city economic development director Meredith Armstrong said.
“This also creates a centre of gravity within the downtown that creates that foot traffic that makes the surrounding area of office space and doctors offices and that type of thing that much more attractive as well.”
Despite the city’s elected officials greenlighting the Cultural Hub, there are still no guarantees.
The city has been here before, with the previous incarnation of city council voting on June 28, 2022, to approve the $98.5-million Junction East Cultural Hub.
That version of the municipal library/art gallery project was slated to consist of a 104,000-square-foot building to be constructed on the parking lot of the Sudbury Theatre Centre, and open by the spring of 2025.
A municipal election took place a few months after the June 28, 2022, decision, and a newly elected city council voted to put it on hold. City staff were asked to look at options for a library/art gallery project which would cost $33.5-million less than the $98.5-million approved.
This search resulted in the selection of Tom Davies Square as an ideal location, which city council directed staff to pursue, and resulted in tonight’s vote.
City council members still maintain opportunities to back away from the project, but Lefebvre told Sudbury.com, “The decision point was pretty much today.”
“I think it’s in stone,” he said. “Regardless of whether it was the previous iteration or this iteration, it’s always an ongoing continuation of discussion of the needs and how things are designed.”
The project’s near-unanimous support during tonight’s meeting and the fact a civic election will not get in the way prior to its anticipated 2026 opening also improve its chances, Lefebvre said.
Included in the resolutions approved during tonight’s meeting was one indicating that in the event a budgeted $24.9 million in unsecured funding from senior levels of government and $3.1 million from partners (library, art gallery, multicultural association) are not secured as part of the project’s total budget of $65, the city would fund the entire project.
Coun. Natalie Labbée argued this shouldn’t be an option, as it might weaken the city’s advocacy for funding from senior levels of government if they knew the city planned on proceeding with or without external funding.
City CAO Ed Archer countered that it would be seen as a “signal of commitment,” and would prevent the project from stalling in the event external funding is not secured.
A recent parallel is the $29.2-million proposed Valley East Twin Pad Multipurpose Sports Complex, which city council approved in the 2022 budget, contingent on $20 million coming from senior levels of government.
No funding has come, so no sports complex has been built.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.