Surprise motion on downtown arena draws harsh words

By: Darren MacDonald – Sudbury Northern Life | Dec 16, 2015.

Motion would have had staff prepare plan to compete with private-sector proposals presented in November

An attempt to have city staff prepare a report on building a downtown events centre – including a new arena – was narrowly defeated Tuesday night amid some harsh words.

The motion by Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti came at the end of the meeting and wasn’t on the agenda. That meant councillors had to waive the normal notice of motion so it could be dealt with last night.

Signoretti said the pre-feasibility study would give council an idea of how to compare an events centre in the city core with the two private-sector proposals presented at a public meeting in late November.

Two plans – one for the South End, the other for an area on the eastern part of The Kingsway — were detailed at the meeting, and members of the Greater Sudbury Development Corp. are scheduled to report back on those and other big project proposals presented in November.

“I’d like to explore the idea of an events centre downtown,” Signoretti said, of his motion. “Just so we have apples to apples and a level playing field.

“We can’t wait until the GSDC comes back with their findings … if we’re going to do something this term … Our downtown needs a voice, and I want to be that voice. We should at least explore this option.”

Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds tried to amend the motion to include an RFP for the arenas. She didn’t like the idea staff was being asked to come up with a downtown plan that would compete with the private-sector plans.

“I have to ask my fellow councillors a really important question – is there an element of conflict in having our same staff that is evaluating competing proposals and have access to private and sensitive financial information, is it proper for them to be preparing a third option for the city that is going to be just and transparent?” Reynolds asked.

“Let’s get everything on the table – the two proposals that we got, any other proposals that would come in through an RFP process … as well as the downtown proposal that Mr. Signoretti is asking for … We could do all of this by the end of June.”

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh supported Signoretti’s motion, saying she was concerned about the economic impact on downtown if the new arena were built elsewhere.

“If we pull the arena out of the downtown, what will be the impact on the businesses that are currently there,” she said. “We need to know that information.”

But other councillors were unwilling to spend money on a costly pre-feasibility study before they have even decided whether a new events centre and arena are a priority.

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier wondered how council, after asking private sector to come forward with proposals, could ask staff to prepare a competing proposal.

“And we haven’t had a full and frank discussion about whether we want this facility,” Cormier said. “As a group we will decide what our priorities are, not just one or two of us jamming motions into the machine to determine and dictate those priorities. I’m offended by that. Gravely offended by that. And I think the people of Sudbury should be offended.

“(This motion) would cost taxpayers a lot of money, before we’ve even decided if this is what we want to do.”

And if council decides to proceed, whatever decision they make has to include a careful evaluation process.

“At the end of the day, it has to make the most sense for the most number of people we represent regardless of where they live in this great city,” he said.

“Let’s see the results of the private proposals presented to us,” agreed Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac. “Before we decide what we’re doing, let’s listen to all the facts … I think this is too fast.”

In the end, the motion was lost by a 6-6 vote, since tie votes are lost votes under the rules of procedure. Mayor Brian Bigger was absent Tuesday.