Greater Sudbury city council has selected the Sudbury Arena site on Elgin Street in the city's downtown as the location for a proposed convention centre, library and art gallery.
The decision came on Jan. 9 after councillors received a more detailed explanation as to why the downtown Rainbow Centre shopping centre wasn't suitable.
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said he and other councillors have received several emails in support of Rainbow, and asked for more detail on why it wasn't a suitable location.
Vista Hospitality, which owns the mall, has been very public in promoting their property as the best spot for the art gallery and library.
And this week, Robert Green, Vista's program co-ordinator, said the mall could find a way to host the convention centre, too. With retail stores struggling across North America, the mall is focused on attracting institutional tenants, Green said, and was willing to accommodate whatever the city required.
But aside from technical issues related to the site, city finance director Ed Stankiewicz said in the long run, the city would be making a considerable investment in a property they don't own.
While a city-owned building for the projects would have considerable value in 25 years, the city would have nothing to show for it should they decide to leave the mall at the end of a long-term lease.
Stankiewicz said the difference between owning and leasing would be about $22 million after 25 years.
The plan is to begin construction on the project in 2020, when the new arena on The Kingsway in the city's east end is expected to open.
Ian Wood, the city's director of economic development, said there was a detailed set of evaluation criteria used to determine which site was most suitable.
“It was a large matrix of assessment,” Wood said. “The Rainbow Mall site was never declared ineligible, it just didn't finish at the top of the heap.”
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, who asked staff to look into the mall as a possible location last year, wondered what would happen if the arena construction was delayed for some reason. Could construction begin using the other suitable locations – the Minto Street or Shaughnessy parking lots – she asked.
Yes, Wood replied, they can begin in 2020 “whether we have an open parking lot or” the arena as the location.
Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier said he disagreed with the decision to build the facilities separately from the new arena. Including them in the Kingsway Entertainment District would be cheaper and work could start much sooner.
“And we'd get it right the first time,” Montpellier said.
But Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan said developing an entertainment district on The Kingsway and an arts district downtown is an opportunity to move the city forward.
“We do have it right,” Kirwan said, estimating the total value of all the projects at $500 million. “We are developing two different clusters that will be destination points.
“This is a great plan ... Things are starting to take shape. Let's change this city forever.”
Read the report on the big projects here.