By Mary Katherine Keown, The Sudbury Star.
With last week’s news that businessman Dario Zulich has purchased the Sudbury Wolves OHL franchise, there has been some discussion of what this will mean for the Sudbury arena.
Zulich has also pitched to council his plans for an events centre, called the True North Strong Centre, which would include a rink, along The Kingsway, near Mid-North Mitsubishi.
His purchase of the Wolves still has to be approved by the OHL board.
Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan took to his Facebook page, Valley East, to raise questions about whether the city should proceed with the request for proposals (RFP) for the arena.
“The Kingsway’s True North Strong sports and entertainment centre is one step closer to reality with the change in ownership of the Sudbury Wolves,” Kirwan wrote. “The announcement of the purchase of the Sudbury Wolves by Dario Zulich, one of the principal partners in the True North Strong sports and entertainment centre, should pretty well put to rest any question about where a major OHL arena should be located. There may not be any need to proceed with an RFP or a consultant’s report if the purchase is approved, as expected, by the league.”
Kirwan said Zulich could choose to operate the facility independently of the city.
“This is likely an option that the company should be seriously considering now that they have ownership of the Sudbury Wolves, the key ingredient in the success of any arena that is going to be built in the city,” Kirwan wrote.
He also said moving the Wolves, as well as other arena events, to The Kingsway locale could free up the current arena for other projects, including the new library and art gallery.
“The True North proposal does not require any significant monetary investment from the city and it provides the current Sudbury Arena to be repurposed for the Art Gallery (of Sudbury) and main library, two of the other large projects that we are hoping to build. The Greater Sudbury Development Corporation actually suggested the Sudbury Arena as being a preferred spot for the art gallery and library since it is downtown and there is plenty of parking available for this duel purpose,” Kirwan wrote.
“So, at the end of the day, Mr. Zulich may have established the foundation for some major growth and development in the city. Now we just have to move forward and make the right decisions.”
But while Kirwan may be questioning the need for an RFP now, the city says it still intends to issue the request for proposals.
“The Sudbury Wolves have a long history in our community, and we continue to be thrilled to have an OHL team in our city,” said Eliza Bennett, the communications manager. “At council’s direction, city staff have been working to define the needs of the community for a potential new arena so that a competitive process can be undertaken. The change in ownership of the Wolves does not change the city’s need to undertake due diligence.”
The city still plans to issue an RFP for the arena, following a $275,000 consultation process that council recently approved.
“There is still some work to do before a competitive process can be undertaken,” Bennett said. “The Wolves will continue to play at the Sudbury Arena, and the city is looking forward to the new season.”
Jeff MacIntyre, chair of Downtown Sudbury, largely mirrored the city’s response. He said his members will continue to advocate for a downtown arena, which is one of three locations that has been identified as a potential home for the new facility.
“It shouldn’t really change much,” MacIntyre said. “We’re still talking about a city-funded project, so for a city-funded project, we should be looking at what’s best for the city. I still argue that would be downtown. “¦ It’ll still have to go through a process and the Wolves would be a tenant in that process, but at the same time, it’s still a public-private partnership, so you need to find out what the best benefit is to the public, not necessarily one of the tenants.”
Public-private partnerships are generally funded through a combination of municipal (or other public) money and private investment.
Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier, in whose ward the current arena is located, echoed MacIntyre and stood firm that he is less concerned with where the arena goes, than he is in ensuring it is in the best interests of the community.
“As far as a new arena goes, I have long said that I am less concerned with where it will be located at this point in time and more concerned with identifying what is best for the citizens of Greater Sudbury,” Cormier told The Star via email. “At this point, I am not opposed to any of the suggested locations, including, of course, the downtown, but what I am opposed to is making a decision that is not in the best financial interest of the citizens of Greater Sudbury. I will do everything I can to ensure that we conduct the appropriate due diligence as we move forward on this issue.”
Cormier also congratulated Zulich on his acquisition and said he looks forward to attending games, no matter in which arena the Wolves may be playing.
“I look forward to cheering on our hometown team under this new leadership,” he wrote. “I would also like to thank the Burgess and Edwards families for their contributions to our community over the years through their ownership of the Wolves.”