Voters listening to what candidates are saying about divisive Kingsway Entertainment District
Council voted in favour of project in June 2017, but zoning decisions currently under review
The future of the Kingsway Entertainment District continues to be a topic of much debate in Greater Sudbury ahead of the October 22nd municipal elections.
There are still many questions surrounding the project that's slated to include a new publicly funded $100 million arena. It was approved by city council back in June 2017.
The city's arena is set to be built alongside a privately run casino and hotel, on land owned by local developer Dario Zulich.
But decisions surrounding the project are currently under review by the province's Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT).
Those who filed the appeals argue the decision process was flawed and that not enough public consultation was done. A decision on whether or not the city needs to revisit its zoning applications for the site may not come until next spring or summer.
The city is currently in talks with its three partners in the project — Zulich's team, Gateway Casinos, and the Hilton hotel chain — about splitting the $8.5 million cost of grading the land for construction.
It's all left many Sudbury residents, like Norm Malette, somewhat perplexed.
"To me, they voted last fall to approve it, and then now all of a sudden they've got appeals going in there," said Malette.
"Something's not jiving, and I don't know what it is. To the common person, everything seems to be really confused. We don't know where we stand with this entertainment business. I just want to know what's going on."
In recent weeks, current councillors Mark Signoretti and Gerry Montpellier have called on council to put a halt to all spending on the project until the appeals are heard.
"What if LPAT comes back and we talk about the casino?" asked Signoretti at a council meeting last week. "What if they don't get the official plan amendment? The dream, the sell to council, was this grandiose project. What if the casino wasn't permitted?"
But council overwhelmingly decided to move forward despite the appeals. Mayor Brian Bigger — who is facing 10 other mayoral candidates in his bid for a second term — said he's confident staff and the private partners have taken all the proper steps throughout the process.
Old debate simmering under surface
Despite his vocal support for the Kingsway project since council chose the site back in June 2017, Bigger was among those who originally voted for downtown as the preferred location for a new arena. That vote was defeated by the narrowest of margins, and the Kingsway was chosen instead.
Downtown was also the top recommendation in a consultant's report.
Some residents are now wondering whether or not a handful of new faces on council could take the arena location conversation back to where it began.
New Sudbury resident Aline Boudreau hopes that won't be the case.
"To me the downtown core is not the place for a casino, or an arena, or a big public gathering place," offered Boudreau. "Over here [on the Kingsway], there's room, there's space, there's going to be a hotel.
"It will bring up Minnow Lake, it will build up the Kingsway, and the land is there. Why not use it?"
The Kingsway Entertainment District site is located in Ward 11. Current councillor Lynne Reynolds, a supporter of the project, is retiring.
Former councillor Terry Kett is among those in the running for the ward. He says he "100 per cent supports the project." But he's also among those who says it's not worth the risk of spending money to develop a site if there's a chance the LPAT decision could change the project.
Fellow Ward 11 candidate John Lindsay has spoken out against the entire plan. He says the salt needed to maintain the massive parking lot on the site would inevitably threaten Ramsey Lake and other nearby bodies of water.
Other council candidates like Derek Young and Bill Leduc believe the project should go ahead as planned.
"It seems to be our general understanding that LPAT is there to allow more local decision making and basically to respect the will of council," said Young.
"Council's made their decision. They've delegated authority to [city staff] to oversee the construction and the partnerships and execute the project. I do respect the will of council, and look forward to moving the project forward as well."
Ward 11 candidate Elizabeth De Luisa said she's upset "the process and lack of analysis" has divided the city.
She said the next council should revisit the impacts of moving the arena away from downtown, and whether or not Sudbury is the right place for a casino.
"Now that the bloom is off the rose and we're better understanding what this [project] means for us, some of us running want to hit the pause button," noted De Luisa.
Though he'll be following what candidates say about the Kingsway project closely, Levack resident Mike O'Byrne said he's set against it.
"With all the talk about an arena and the casino and all that stuff, why don't they just put it on the ballot and let the people speak," said O'Byrne. "They can't even afford to fix the roads, and they want to spend more money. It don't make no sense to me."
Another Sudbury voter, Marty Conlin, disagreed.
"I think with all the money that's been spent there already, if they don't go through with it, it's a lot of wasted money for nothing," he noted.