Developer lays out ‘bigger’ vision for Sudbury

By Ben Leeson, Sudbury Star.

Dario Zulich believes the stars are aligned to make his vision of a major sports and entertainment development on the Kingsway in Sudbury a reality.

Zulich, a well-known local developer who owns TESC Contracting and the Sudbury Wolves hockey club, has been presenting his plan for the True North Strong complex to politicians, community groups, media and anyone else willing to listen, including those who favour a downtown arena.

He feels bolstered by news that both proponents who have entered bids to build a casino for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation in the Sudbury area have expressed interest in placing it on the Kingsway property, a stone’s throw from the arena and event centre Zulich wants to build to replace the downtown Sudbury Community Arena, in a public-private partnership with the city.

“All of them have indicated they want to build a resort-style casino on our property,” said Zulich, while making a presentation at The Sudbury Star on Wednesday. “The two of them indicated they want to be right there on that spot and they want to build a $60 (million) $80-million-sized resort, almost like Casino Rama. They want to build three restaurants and have 250 rooms associated with them.”

With one million visits per year, Zulich said, the casino could bring in some $85 million in revenue, which he estimated would be twice what the city currently brings in from the slots at Sudbury Downs in Chelmsford.

“The bigger thing, from my point of view, is they are going to guarantee 30 to 40 big acts per year,” Zulich said. “You need the big acts coming through Sudbury, as opposed to just hockey. You’ve got to multi-use that building, right?”

Zulich presented his purchase of the Wolves last summer from the Burgess and Edwards families, and even his recent purchase of the water tower in downtown Sudbury, as part of his larger vision to put the city on the map as a regional sports, entertainment and arts and culture hub.

“This is part of a bigger picture and a bigger picture starts with a bigger mission, and the bigger mission is this – this movement will provide family entertainment for the City of Greater Sudbury,” Zulich said. “Our mission is not to make money. Money is a byproduct of doing something great, and that’s what we’re about to do here. The bigger vision is to create a sports and entertainment district, not just a building for downtown, not even an event centre for Sudbury. This is a sports and entertainment district for the City of Greater Sudbury.”

The plan includes three major parts.

The first is the 7,500- to 8,000-seat True North Strong Centre, with a main arena and a pair of extra ice pads, where he hopes to turn the Wolves into a contender capable of hosting the Memorial Cup national junior championship.

“But it’s not just an arena, not just an event centre, it’s a conference and convention centre,” Zulich said. “It’s entertainment first, an arena second.”

The second part of Zulich’s plan is the casino, and the third a motorsports park, just north of the True North Strong site.

The True North Strong group filed an expression of interest with the city earlier this year for the development of a motorsports park, which could host motocross, snowmobiling and several other events.

“Different market, different time of year, it compliments what we’re trying to do,” Zulich said.

“It’s a perfect bolt-on to use our services, the parking, the hotels – it’s a destination.”

Such a development could not fit downtown, Zulich said, superimposing the proposed layout on an overhead view of the downtown core to emphasize his point.

“We’d have to expropriate the whole of downtown,” he said.

“The BIA (Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area), they want one building downtown for their merchants and their restaurants. The person in Capreol, Coniston or Garson doesn’t care about one building. I’m not talking about one building – I’m talking about a destination for all of the City of Greater Sudbury.”

The Kingsway site is only a few minutes from downtown, a distance Zulich believes would make little difference to those travelling in from outlying communities.

He doesn’t believe the city officials should forsake Sudbury Community Arena, even if they back True North Strong. He believes the Wolves’ current home could have a renaissance as a school for the creative and performing arts, which could house various arts and culture programs, galleries and museums.

“You could turn it into the centre of the universe for arts and culture in northeastern Ontario,” Zulich said, pointing out the building’s proximity to the Laurentian School of Architecture and the proposed Place des Arts.

“This is smack in the middle of the Elgin Street Greenway,” he said. “It could be their showpiece.”

The city is in the midst of a consultation process as party of its plan to replace 65-year-old Sudbury Community Arena, and may issue a request for proposal next June.

Zulich didn’t rule out bidding on a downtown rink, if council goes that direction, but he’s confident councillors will see the potential of his plan.

“Council will make its decision next summer, and I think they’ll make the right decision,” Zulich said.