The downtown received the highest overall rating to host a new community arena in Sudbury, Ont., according to a consultation report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and a site evaluation committee

But a property on the Kingsway owned by local entrepreneur Dario Zulich under the brand True North Strong does not trail far behind.

It was given high marks for cost and parking, which were identified by city council as being of the highest importance for a new event centre.

"You can't even compare this project with the downtown project," Coun. Lynne Reynolds said.

"This project on the Kingsway is transformative, it's visionary and it's going to put us on the map as an entertainment venue."

Lynne Reynolds

Greater Sudbury city councillor Lynne Reynolds stands by the Kingsway, not far from where she would like to see a new event centre located. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

True North Strong's vision for an entertainment district includes a casino, motorsports park, hotels, and hockey and basketball games.

Could rejecting the Kingsway send a negative message to developers?

Gateway Casinos announced on June 13 that it signed a letter of intent to add a new casino to the Kingsway complex. 

Ron Henderson, special advisor to the city's chief administrative officer, said the committee was aware of the developments and "definitely took them into consideration in applying the evaluation criteria."

Still, the Kingsway is seen as a riskier option.

Mark Signoretti

Greater Sudbury city councillor Mark Signoretti has announced his support for a new downtown arena. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

There is no guarantee any further development will occur on the site because other cities that have built event centres outside their downtown areas have not realized the anticipated economic benefits, according to the consultation report.

It also noted that the Kingsway property requires rezoning, which could take one year or more.

If her colleagues do not support True North Strong's pitch, Reynolds said she is concerned about the type of message that could be sent to developers and residents.

"It says don't dream," Reynolds said.

"Don't have a vision because city hall will kill it immediately."

Arena for the 'community'

The preferred downtown site is located beside the existing community arena on the block around Shaughnessy, Minto, Van Horne and Brady Streets.

The location is seen as being able to produce immediate economic benefits, according to the consultation report.

"We all work, play or do something in the downtown," said Coun. Mark Signoretti.

"When I look at the Sudbury arena, it says Sudbury community arena on it. To me, it's for the community so that's why I support it ... It's the major artery to our community."

Parking within a ten minute walk from downtown has been identified as an issue, but the report notes that a new event centre could generate new private sector parking investments.

Signoretti said there is a possibility of offering shuttle buses to bring more people downtown.  

Sudbury arena site evaluation committee

Greater Sudbury city staff will present their report to city council on June 27 with recommendations on where a new arena should be located. Left to right: Ron Henderson, special adviser to the Chief Administrative Officer; Ed Archer, Chief Administrative Officer; and Ian Wood, director of economic development. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Chief administrative officer, Ed Archer, said the recommendations weighed heavily on city staff who issued the consultation report.

"This is a significant community investment," Archer said.

"We recognize that. At the end of the day, our job is to give council our best advice."

Arena to be built on taxpayers' dime

Signoretti also noted that there is a misconception that a developer would pay for the project, which is estimated between $80 million and $100 million.

"If they did that, I'd be the first one to say go and build it," Signoretti said.

"No one has come out publicly and stated that."

Wherever the new arena is put, Signoretti said it will be built on the taxpayers' dime.

The Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area Association has pledged $2.2 million towards a facility within the city core. 

But Coun. Robert Kirwan is concerned the city will lose out on approximately $200 million investment by rejecting the Kingsway.

"To me, it's a given," Coun. Robert Kirwan said.

"The only place to put the arena where it's going to do the most good for both the downtown and the Kingsway is on the Kingsway."

Debate to head into 2018 municipal election?

Kirwan suggested creating an arts hub in the downtown with a new main library, art gallery and Place des Arts.

He also said the money generated from the entertainment complex by True North Strong could go towards revitalizing the downtown, but that the Kingsway needs the arena to make that happen.

City council is expected to vote on the location of the proposed project on June 27.

Robert Kirwan

Greater Sudbury city councillor Robert Kirwan is hoping to wrap up plans for a new arena before the 2018 municipal election. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Kirwan said he is worried about finalizing the planning of the new arena before the 2018 municipal election because he said it has the potential to "split the entire city."

"It's going to be a bitter fight between the downtown and the Kingsway," Kirwan said.

"It's going to be an inside, outside fight. We're going to be back to 2006, and talk of de-amalgamation is going to be all over the place. So I want to put this to bed."

"I want to say let's make a decision that's going to end the fighting, have both parties feel that they've won, and then let's move forward and get it done. If we don't, the fight is going to be on for next year."