Debate over new arena for Sudbury heated

By Mary Katherine Keown, The Sudbury Star.

A late addition to Tuesday’s council meeting very nearly got the puck rolling on a new arena for the Nickel City, but was ultimately derailed by a lengthy debate that was heated at times.

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti introduced a motion near the end of the meeting seeking a feasibility study on an arena and event centre in the city core.

“I’d like to explore the idea of an event centre downtown and give direction to staff to come back to us at the same time they’re coming back on the large projects, just so we can compare apples to apples and have a level playing field,” he explained.

While councillors were excited to talk arenas – and muse over the possibilities – some were perplexed by the idea of a city-funded study.

While she was generally in favour of the motion, Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds cited several concerns, including some of the language in its preamble and the implication that council favoured a downtown location.

“Is there an element of conflict in having our same staff who is evaluating competing proposals, with access to sensitive and private information, is it proper for them to be preparing a third option for the city that will be just and transparent? We are in essence asking the actual evaluators to prepare a competing proposal. It really implies to me a conflict of interest,” she wondered.

Two groups – one led by Dario Zulich and Perry Dellelce, and another by Dalron Group Limited – pitched their big ideas to city council on Nov. 27 for new events centres.

Dalron favoured a south end location, while the Zulich team proposed a $60-million, 6,000-seat event centre on The Kingsway. It would be a public-private partnership split 75/25 between the developers and the city, but Zulich and his team said the new centre would cost taxpayers nothing. The city would provide the security and borrowing power behind the project rather than capital investment, and would own the venue.

The Dalron project would include seating for 6,500 for sporting events and 7,500 for entertainment events. While its construction and operation would cost the city nothing, user fees would be imposed to recoup expenses and maintain operations.

Reynolds went on to introduce an amending motion that incorporated Signoretti’s idea, and included the aforementioned projects, as well as any others that could be brought forward, into an over-arching request for proposals.

“We could do all of this by the end of June,” she predicted. “Let’s go to the RFP proposal now. There’s no reason to delay it.”

Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan, however, said he could not understand how the city could respond to its own RFP, while Michael Vagnini, the councillor for Ward 2, wanted to know how much the process would cost taxpayers.

Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer was enthusiastic about the motions brought forth by his colleagues, noting he wants more information on the ideal location for an events centre, its impact on economic development and its costs.

“I do want to see what impact an event centre will have, whether it’s downtown, along the Highway 17 East corridor or in the south end of the city,” he said. “If the economic development department can tell us what will be the best bang for our buck is by placing it downtown … then that’s where I want to go.”

But Vagnini remained unconvinced. The city’s current infrastructure needs are so grave, he argued, that council might wish to concentrate its efforts on those foundations.

Ed Stankiewicz, the city’s acting chief financial officer, told reporters on Dec. 8 that to fully address the infrastructure gap, city hall would require significantly more than $1 billion in funding, including $700 million for roads and $345 million for water-wastewater infrastructure.

“Before we add a swimming pool and deck on our house, should we not fix the leaky roof or the cracked basement,” Vagnini commented.

Fern Cormier, the representative for Ward 10, countered Signoretti, commenting that his apples-to-apples approach was erroneous.

“You’re talking private versus public sector and they’re diametrically opposed,” he said. “I don’t feel we should move forward with this motion. … After we ask the private sector to come forward (on Nov. 27 at the large-projects meeting), we bring forward a motion that hits the nail on the head and I’m sure from their position looks like we’re competing. I have a bit of a problem from that point of view.”

Cormier also noted council has yet to fully discuss and debate whether or not they wish to move forward on an events centre.

After a near hour-long debate, councillors defeated Joscelyne Landry-Altmann’s suggestion to defer to the end of January, as well as Signoretti’s motion and Reynolds’ amended proposal.