By Ben Leeson, Sudbury Star
Since they first pitched the True North Strong Sports and Entertainment Centre to Greater Sudbury city councillors last fall, Dario Zulich and the other project proponents have been busy making the case for a new arena and events centre on The Kingsway.
What they’re planning is not just a hockey rink, but an events centre that is part of a larger, mixed-use sports, entertainment and convention complex they say will be a cultural focal point and economic driver for the city.
There are other proposals for new sports and entertainment venues, and politicians continue to debate whether a new arena should be located downtown or in another part of the city. But in their meetings with business and community leaders, Zulich and his allies have already secured several high-profile supporters.
Zulich took a moment this week to answer our 10 Questions feature and make his case that the True North Strong Centre is the best choice for Greater Sudbury.
1. What is the True North Strong Sports and Entertainment Centre?
True North Strong will be the best new events centre of its size in the world. While we haven’t suggested a formal name for our proposed events centre, the True North Strong Centre as we refer to it, is a world-class multi-use venue for concerts, sports, family shows, business conferences, community hockey, and other events that will serve as a destination for residents of Greater Sudbury, as well as for visitors from across Ontario and western Quebec. We are a group of Sudburians calling the proposal True North Strong, a title that reflects the passion we have for a project that will tell the world that Greater Sudbury has arrived, while kick-starting the GS2025 vision to drive economic development into the region and inspire our community with a gathering place that will enhance the quality of life for everyone, regardless of their entertainment interests.
2. How has the project changed since it was originally conceived and why?
Since presenting our vision for a new events centre to city council and the mayor last November, we have been holding regular meetings, informal discussions with fellow citizens, and public information sessions across Greater Sudbury. We have also continued to speak with leading industry experts and others who have built similar venues in markets of our size in North America.
Throughout this process we have learned that our community wishes to see, and can support, a regional events centre that will accommodate more than the 6,000 seats we originally proposed. We have learned that our market can sustain a slightly larger venue, so we propose seating of between 7,000 and 8,000 seats, depending on the event.
Also, we know that some of our community ice rinks are outdated and are costly to operate. So we have figured out a way to add two additional ice pads (flex space) to our original plan. This helps meet the demands for ice time by community hockey and skating enthusiasts, increase the multi-purpose functionality of the facility, while at the same time reducing operating costs.
3. Why is this project the right one to replace Sudbury Community Arena?
Our intent is to build a state-of-the-art events centre that is the best of its size in the world. Our site has the space to accommodate that—to provide all the amenities that drive maximum revenues and the best return on investment for Greater Sudbury. It is large enough to allow for the construction of a large “back of house” that is required to attract a diverse offering of shows, sports events, conferences, and special events. In addition to the two community ice pads adjacent to the building, our plan includes a public square that will be a vibrant gathering place for the community.
Our site is the best location to deliver adequate space for public access, including on-site parking for 2,000 vehicles that will feature multiple entry/exit points to ensure smooth and efficient traffic flow in the area on event days. Situated in a prime location in the middle of the growth path for Greater Sudbury, it is the most easily accessed location by the greatest number of area residents. Its central location on the Trans-Canada Highway makes it accessible to touring acts, as well as to out-of-town visitors who will be coming to Greater Sudbury to attend events. Our design has the room for adjacent hotels and other developments that will further boost the local economy and serve the needs of all who visit the centre.
Our vision of building a new regional events centre on the Kingsway, also includes enabling future development of the historic downtown Sudbury in ways that will transform that area of the city to better meet the needs of our changing community in the 21st century. We look forward to being engaged with and participating in the process of creating a vibrant downtown Sudbury and contributing to its success. Given the realities and limitations of downtown, this begins with establishing a new regional events centre at our location, giving the city what we need and want from both an economic and a lifestyle perspective.
4. What kinds of events or entertainment can you see this centre hosting that can’t be hosted here now?
There will be something for everybody at the True North Strong Centre. From family shows, concerts, conferences, and trade shows that have by-passed Greater Sudbury because there isn’t a suitable venue, to the Sudbury Wolves and potentially other sports teams, this will be home to an assortment of approximately 125+ great events a year. As the finest venue of its kind in Canada, this will be a year-around destination for tourism from across Ontario and western Quebec.
5. What is your broader plan for the property on The Kingsway?
The new regional events centre will be the cornerstone of a new sports and entertainment district for Greater Sudbury and Northern Ontario. Our plan is for mixed-use development that incorporates destination type entertainment facilities such as hotels and restaurants, as well as other commercial uses that cater to attracting tourists to our region. The property is large enough to accommodate the flexibility and opportunity to “bolt on” additional sports and entertainment uses. It will be built on a highly visible, 5 lane highway portion of the Kingsway, with existing upgraded infrastructures already in place.
The site is in close proximity to the main regional business hub of commercial retail in Northeastern Ontario, the New Sudbury Centre, as well as the Millennium Centre. With the development of the Innovation Park set to begin as part of the first phase of development, we see the western portion of the property poised and ready to serve as the region’s entertainment magnet to bringing hundreds of thousands of new visitors to our region to the benefit of the businesses throughout the entire city.
In addition to the central plan for a mixed-use development, we have also filed an Expression of Interest with the City of Greater Sudbury for the development of a motorsports park on adjacent lands to the north side of the site just beyond Phase 1 of the Innovation Park. This option expands on the ability to leverage the facilities while increasing the reasons for Greater Sudbury to be the central hub for sports and entertainment for Northeastern Ontario.
Sudbury is the regional centre of Northern Ontario in so many ways. Sudbury is the regional centre for provincial and federal governments, the regional centre for banking and finance, the regional centre for hospitals and healthcare, the regional centre for education (university and colleges), the regional centre for tourism (Science North and Dynamic Earth), the regional centre for business and industry. We are simply proposing a “regional events centre” for sports and entertainment.
6. What will be the longer-term economic impact, not just in that area but in the city as a whole?
The True North Strong Centre will have a substantial economic impact on the community. It will be a revenue centre—not a cost centre. Our proposal provides an increased tax base without increasing taxes to citizens. We are calling on city officials to launch an RFP process during which a detailed economic impact study and market analysis will be conducted of our proposal and any others that may be submitted for consideration. What we know today is that our arena proposal is superior to alternatives because the revenue potential for all events is maximized in a facility of this size that can accommodate a multitude of major events.
Business and restaurant owners large and small, the building trades, community leaders, and individuals from all walks of life are enthusiastically embracing the vision of True North Strong because of the sustained economic impact our events centre will deliver for generations to come. With local builders and tradesmen utilizing local equipment and materials, there will be a significant infusion of money into the local economy during the construction phase and in the years that follow. With 125+ annual events in a first class venue, new part-time and full-time jobs will be created on a permanent basis.
7. What has the reception been like in the community?
Extraordinary and unilaterally supportive, and what some have called a breath of fresh air! For years, the community has been discussing the need to replace the Sudbury Community Arena in order to stop the loss of millions of dollars that goes to other cities because we lack a facility that can attract major events. The True North Strong vision is the first plan to capture widespread support from every sector of our community. That’s because our plan, created for Sudburians by Sudburians, with the support of renowned experts who have built multi-use events centres across North America, ensures sustained revenue for the city, will enhance the livability of our community, and delivers a new centre that opens its doors two years after city officials grant its approvals. The reception has been tremendous, and gets even stronger with every community meeting or event we attend.
8. What kind of partnership do you envision having with the city?
That’s largely up to the city to decide in their request for proposals from the market. We are proposing a public/private partnership, commonly known as a P3. A P3 minimizes the costs and risk to the city because the True North Strong partnership will design, build, maintain, and operate the events centre, and then after a period of years transfer operation of the centre to the next operator – this could be any number of groups including the city. Ownership of the centre has always been envisioned to remain a city asset. Together, we will also pursue the funds that the senior government levels are earmarking for major infrastructure projects such as this. More than 236 projects across Canada, including the biosolids management facility in Greater Sudbury, have been made possible through an effective public/private partnership.
9. What will the project cost, what will the cost be to taxpayers, and why would it be a better deal than a city-built facility?
No one supports the idea of raising taxes to finance a new arena – nor do we. A city-built and operated facility would almost certainly require doing so. That would be a bad idea for the city and for taxpayers, and we have yet to hear anyone champion that approach.
The True North Strong plan does not require that new tax dollars be generated from taxpayers. The city’s contribution would be determined through the formulation of a final public/private partnership – but it will not cost the taxpayer an incremental tax dollar.
We recently expanded our seating configuration from 6,000 seats to 7-8,000 seats, and added two community ice pads to our plan. The cost of our original plan before those amendments was approximately $60 million, but we have developed a plan with revised cost projections that may be just slightly higher, if at all. A more specific figure would be presented in an RFP process once initiated by the city.
10. Some have called for an arena or event centre to be built downtown. How is your location better than downtown or elsewhere?
Our site allows for the city to build the best regional events centre possible! Building a regional events centre similar to the one we propose in the old downtown is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The right size of regional events centre for our city simply cannot fit downtown. This is especially true if you include the ensuing developments that will bolt onto this project (motorsports park, soccer bubbles, hotels, restaurants, and other recreation and entertainment venues).
Building a new events centre on a confined downtown site forces a downgrade of amenities and possibilities, substantially reducing revenue potential for the community and severely limiting the opportunity for many entertainment and business events. A downtown site cannot achieve the goal of being able to compete with other cities of our size to attract the quality and volume of concerts, family shows, and business events that will maximize the economic opportunities for Greater Sudbury. Our location is large enough, and flexible enough, to maximize the potential economic benefit of a new events centre.
Building downtown involves needless high costs (including but not limited to parking structures and upgrades to ancient infrastructure) and presents a multitude of complexities including land assembly and scheduling. It has been estimated that attempting to build at a downtown location could take as many as five years before a new arena is open. From an economic standpoint, Greater Sudbury cannot afford to miss out on millions of dollars in revenue, only to build a smaller, compromised facility downtown. The proposed site of the True North Strong Centre is zoned and ready for development now. The True North Strong Centre can be open within two years of the commencement of construction.
Our location is in the middle of the growth path for Greater Sudbury and is the most easily accessed site by the greatest number of area residents. It has room for adjacent hotels, restaurants and business development, as well as parking for 2,000 vehicles and easy ingress/egress. We are envisioning not just a new multi-use events centre and a public square, but our goal is to create a destination for sports and entertainment that will bring recognition and distinction to all of Greater Sudbury from across Canada. That is not possible at a downtown location.
Finally, by locating a new events centre at our more suitable site, we open up and encourage the development of downtown Sudbury in exciting new ways that will reinvigorate downtown and make it the destination for cultural, arts, business, and residential offerings that others in the community are advocating. We believe in Greater Sudbury. We believe Greater Sudbury can and should have a vibrant downtown core like we see in similar size cities across Canada. We believe Greater Sudbury should also have a world class Regional Events Centre.