Fat Louis - April 26, 2016
An Odd Thought

By Fat Louis
It’s the issue that will never die. Once again Sudbury’s city council is making noise about needing a new arena. Not just any arena either—no it needs to be a showpiece. Something special. There’s big talk, some even argue that a convention centre and an arts centre be shoehorned into the building. Only it’s not just a building anymore, it’s becoming a project. Fact is things are beginning to sound a bit white elephant-ish…again.

The sad thing is the politicians are trotting out the same old arguments. Oh sure, they’ve tweaked thing some—to try and fool us. This time they’re promising to be smarter and not “go it alone.” Instead city hall is spouting a new buzzword “3P.” This public-private partnership would see the city “help” with the financing, but leave the actual construction and management of the new arena to a private company. Isn’t that what’s going on now? The city pays the bills and Wolves ownership pockets the (ever-dwindling) profits!

Before Sudbury goes signing any more sweetheart deals (behind closed doors!) there are issues to be addressed. First and foremost is the question of: Do we even need a new arena? Then comes: Can we afford a new arena? But the debate doesn’t stop there. Oh, no. Other controversial considerations include:

1. The Downtown Disaster. The downtown merchant’s association is screaming bloody murder at the thought of losing the arena. Two of the most promising P3 proposals suggest a change of location for the new rink—one in the South End and the other along the Kingsway. Keeping the arena located in the city’s core makes sense: the downtown is central; it has a proven track record; and there are dozens of restaurants/bars/businesses that serve the needs of a large sporting/concert vendor already in place. Moving the arena would mean disaster to the area. Of course the downtown is also crowded, expensive, and dirty. Then again, if the new arena gets built elsewhere in the city the businesses would follow. Other benefits to moving include: more room in the other locals, meaning less parking problems; cheaper land; newer buildings nearby; and avoiding the downtown.

2. The Casino Complication. Many of the proposed arena plans are contingent on the city getting a new casino. Unfortunately the placement and design of that tent-pole building is still years away. The province won’t even announce the winning bidder until sometime in 2017. 2017! Meaning real decisions will be years away. And the arena debate will linger on, like some unkillable zombie.

3. The Community Consequence. Sudbury might have a rich hockey history but the number of hockey players is limited. Building a new arena—especially a double-pad ice surface—will siphon off demand from other arenas, probably forcing an older rink to close. There is zero chance that arena will be in the city. So some outlying community will have its ice shuttered…and the Capreol Arena has been in the city’s crosshairs for decades. Whether they resent the long drive or are simply jealous of our double-pad doesn’t matter. The day council cuts the ribbon on the new arena we can be sure our rink’s days are numbered.

4. P3 Problems. In an ideal world the public-private partnership would benefit both sides equally. This isn’t an ideal world. Here, in reality, it is the taxpayer who gets the short end of the stick. Cost overruns, work delays, and all sorts of other “issues” get dumped on the general public. And that doesn’t count the cut corners, cheap materials, and other shenanigans builders use to increase profits, all of which come back to bite the public partners down the road.

It’s clear that there are plenty of issues needing answers before Sudbury moves forward with building its new arena. Will council address these? Probably not. It’s easier to paper over the problems and smile for the cameras than admit the hard truths.

Read Fat Louis' previous columns