True North Strong arena/event centre vision expanded

by Randy Pascal

A new event centre/arena/entertainment complex at the eastern end of the Kingsway may or may not become reality, but give the True North Strong Sports, Entertainment & Business Centre group credit. They have taken a great deal of care formulating a proposal that at least attempts to deal with the usual concerns of average Sudburians.

With plenty of public backlash over the capital expenditure that the City of Greater Sudbury was envisioning at the time of the multi-use recreation facilities (dubbed the John Rodriguez Legacy Projects) a few years back, presenting a grand project that does not involve any increase of taxpayers dollars will catch the attention of even the “anti-arena” faction.

“Our plan will be a revenue centre for the City, not a cost centre,” noted partner Dario Zulich in a media release at the time of the council presentation in late November. “Our events centre will deliver an increased tax base, with no net tax increase to our fellow citizens.”

Zulich, owner of TESC Contracting, has partnered with St Charles College graduate Perry Dellelce (managing partner of Wildeboer Dellelce LLP in Toronto), former Sudbury Wolves NHL signee Andrew Dale, and former president of MSLE (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment) Tom Anselmi to form True North Strong concept.

One of two proposals presented to council, their version is a call for a $60 million multi-use event centre project, seating 6000+ fans, that will host upwards of 125 events a year, including OHL hockey, as the new home of the Sudbury Wolves.

“We see this project unfolding as a “P3″ (Public-Private Partnership) project, where you’re leveraging the skills and core capabilities of each partner,” explained Dale.

“There is shared risk, transference of risk, both on the construction end, and also the operations. This will become a profit centre for the City. In its current role, the City runs arenas, and the Sudbury Community Arena, as cost centres.”

“This project will grow the community, becoming that capital of Northern Ontario, that central place for tourism, especially for sports and entertainment.” Given the fact that the group already owns the land in question (situated directly next to Mitsubishi/Mid-North Motors, and more or less across from Tim Horton’s on Levesque Street), and that much of the financing legwork has already been completed, there would appear to be some immediate legitimacy to the proposal.

And while some might suggest that the downtown core must be home to any new construction of a primary arena for Sudbury, True North Strong believes that a fairly simple comparison of pros and cons weighs heavily in their favour for the benefit of all.

“We are an advocate of our downtown, and we want to see the downtown grow in new, creative and innovative ways,” acknowledged Dale. “Our location provides the maximum benefit because there are no compromises, and therefore revenues can be maximized.”

“With ample space, proper zoning, we are development ready, and yet there is flexibility in terms of what sport and hospitality amenities could be included in the project.”

In fact, the entire project was born from an RFP (request for proposal) that the City had sought a couple of years ago (Fall 2013), when looking to determine which direction to take with regards to the current situation at the Sudbury Community Arena, a building on which construction was completed in 1951.

“They (the City) asked for an OHL arena proposal in 2013,” said Dale. “The market needs more than an OHL arena. The market needs an Event Centre, that is multi-purpose, that is flexible, scalable, that meets the entertainment needs of Northern Ontario, and includes the ability to host OHL hockey.”

Dale and his group are convinced that the vision could become a reality within two years. “Our thought is that if the project moves through a process of knowing what the City wants, and what it will look like, shovels can be in the ground in 2016, which allows us to open the doors in 2018.”

“For this vision to become a reality, a couple of things have to happen,” continued Dale. “First of all, it’s got to get council buy-in. It’s a council decision, because the City would be a partner.”

“We didn’t ask for any new money. We asked for a transparent process to get started that will look at all options.”