Dario versus the downtown? Not so, says Sudbury Arena developer Zulich
Developer wants to see arena, casino and motorsports park built on his east end property
The developer envisioning a new entertainment district on Sudbury's east end says he is a friend of the city's downtown.
And Dario Zulich says that's why he's suggesting the old arena become an arts complex after a new one is built on his land out on the Kingsway.
"If you have a boat with two holes in it, which one is most important? I can't close my eyes and say 'I'm not worried about that, I'm just going to fix this one' I'm still sunk, in my boat. Our city has to take care of both issues: we need an event centre that's economic and we need to fix our downtown, so that's why my plan takes care of both.," says Zulich, who also owns the Sudbury Wolves.
"We can have our cake and eat it too. We can fix both holes in this boat."
Zulich has had an architect do some preliminary sketches on the 65-year-old Sudbury Arena, which he says he could become a multi-level arts complex and a home for a new museum, library, art gallery and performance space, all of which the city is currently planning.
He says he's been frustrated that some paint him as an enemy of downtown Sudbury.
"Big time. It frustrates me. It's the downtown versus Dario. That's what I'm feeling like," says Zulich, who owns several properties downtown as well.
Zulich says the city would have to "expropriate the entire downtown" to build his entertainment district in the core, which means Sudbury would end up with a "baby arena" instead of a full-fledged event centre.
"We're not trying to build a building, we're trying to build an industry," says Zulich, who also recently bought the downtown water tower, which he dreams of transforming into a giant goal light that sparks up when the Wolves score.
Zulich is hoping that city council votes on an arena location this summer, after receiving a consultant's report on Sudbury's arena needs. He says if his plan is chosen, he would enter into negotiations with the city on which of the many models for a public-private partnership they'd like to take on the operation of the arena.
"It's not about making money. Making money is a by-product of doing great," he says.
Zulich says the "stars are aligning" in 2017, with these three projects being planned at the same time and two supportive majority governments in Toronto and Ottawa.
He fears if the city politicians don't pull the trigger in the new year, that his vision will never come true. And while some have suggested he should run, Zulich laughs, saying being an elected official is a tough job.
"My hat goes off to them. They are dedicated to the city. I'm dedicated to the city in a different way," he says.
Arena is 'backbone' of downtown business
Jeff MacIntyre, the chair for the Downtown Sudbury business association, says it's too early to start planning an arena, before council has the consultant's report.
But he says an arts complex including a library and art gallery in the old arena would not replace the extra business that comes from hockey fans and concert goers downtown.
"That's the difference between just paying your staff and being able to pay yourself as well," MacIntyre he says, calling the arena-related customers the "backbone" for many entrepreneurs downtown.
He also says that citizen committees have spent many hours planning out civic projects like the proposed museum and Synergy Centre "and to sideswipe them I think is tough."