Sudbury mayor now opposes Kingsway project after costs soar to $215M

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger is asking for a city staff report about the Kingsway Entertainment District, hoping it will bring more clarity on the controversial project. (Alana Everson/CTV News)

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger has reversed his stance on the Kingsway Entertainment District and is now opposed to the project after the latest estimates put the cost at almost $215 million.

Bigger went public with his position Wednesday evening, even though the report outlining the new costs were subject to a media embargo requested by the city.

"I cannot support staff's recommendation to accept a cost of $215 million for a new event centre," Bigger said in a statement.

"Knowing that the St. Catharines Meridian Centre was constructed in 2014 for $54.7 million. I also cannot support staff's recommendation to take on an additional $115 million of debt for this project. Particularly, with staff's latest estimate that the interest rate on new long-term debt would be five per cent or more."

This is the second time Bigger has changed his stance on the KED, as the project is known. He voted against it in the spring 2017 vote at city council, but changed his stance during the 2018 municipal election and said he supported it if that's what people wanted.

A new community arena was one of several big projects city council backed in 2016, along with the Place des Arts, a new library, art gallery and convention centre. Plans for a new arena became controversial, however, when council voted in 2017 to build it on land owned by developer Dario Zulich on The Kingsway.

That led to four years of legal appeals that delayed all the projects. While the appeals ultimately failed, they delayed the projects long enough that only the Place des Arts has been completed.

The convention centre has been dropped, but council did support a new library and art gallery downtown, known as Junction East, even after costs soared to $98.5 million.

But the price tag for the KED was too high for Bigger, who is heading into a third municipal election in October. His vote is key on council, since others who supported the project have either left council or already switched their position.

"I do remain committed to the Junction East project and I am very optimistic that significant funding dollars will be obtained from upper levels of government for that project," Bigger said in his statement.

While the city secured a $200 million bond at a low interest rate to fund the projects, Bigger said much of that money has been spent.

"At this time, approximately half of those funds have been committed for projects such as Place Des Arts, Junction East and the four laning of MR 35," he said.

"I have asked staff to provide council with an update and summary of all projects approved by council, where staff anticipate financing these projects with new debt. I will ask city council to defer any further debt financed projects at this time."

A message to Zulich seeking reaction to the news has not yet been returned. In a statement, Gateways Casino said it couldn't comment until the report is presented to city council on Tuesday. Here's their full statement:

"In response to the statement from Greater Sudbury Mayor, Brian Bigger, this afternoon regarding the proposed event centre at the KED site: Respectfully, Gateway Casinos is not in a position to comment until the city staff report is officially presented to all members of the Greater Sudbury city council on Tuesday, July 12, and the matter is fully debated and put to a deciding vote by council members and an official decision on the future of the KED arena/events centre is determined."