Sudbury councillors rally behind 'Junction' arts, culture district project

Greater Sudbury has taken another step toward building a mutli-million dollar arts and culture hub in the downtown — but some say the price-tag is too high.

"We know we can afford it," says Coun. Robert Kirwan

This architectural model shows one potential layout and vision for the city's proposed Junction project. The buildings shown in white would house the city's main library, art gallery and a conference centre, and would be built on the current site of the Sudbury Arena. (Casey Stranges/CBC)

Greater Sudbury has taken another step toward building a mutli-million dollar arts and culture hub in the downtown — but some say the price-tag is too high. 

On Tuesday night, city council approved a preliminary business plan for the Junction, the name given to the city block that would house a combined art gallery, library and conference centre.

Representatives from the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Greater Sudbury Public Library and the Synergy Centre Citizen Group were in attendance in council chambers, and threw their support behind the plan.

The three buildings would stand on Minto and Elgin Street, on the site of the current Sudbury Arena.

Coun. Robert Kirwan said this type of momentum and community support only comes along once in a generation.

"I don't mind saying, I'm 68 years old, and since I was in my late 20s, I've been waiting for this," Kirwan said.

"This is part of a transformational period of four or five years that this city has never ever experienced."

Ward 5 city councillor Robert Kirwan says the addition of three cultural facilities downtown would be "transformational." (Roger Corriveau/CBC)

Kirwan added that the reason he could be confident in the business plan, despite  a total estimated price tag of more than $100 million, is the amount of planning that city staff and community advisers have put into it.

"We know we can afford it, we have the capacity, we have the financial department that can put the business case together, and I'm looking forward to seeing that brought to the next stage," he said.

"It's two years before we start breaking ground, we have plenty of time to to get funding from other senior levels of government, and other funders."

Ward 2 Sudbury city councillor Michael Vagnini. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Taxpayers at their 'end game'

But some councillors aren't on board.

Citing the cost, Coun. Michael Vagnini said taxpayers are at their "end game."

"This [project] is going to add a large financial strain," he said. "Right now we need to go back to the basics rather than do other niceties."

Coun. Gerry Montepellier, while approving the idea of a new gallery and library, told councillors he thinks demolishing the old arena would be a waste.

"I heard nothing about this building being in bad condition," Montpellier said. "It's being demolished because it doesn't fit the picture."

Montpellier said concentrating on the downtown arts district could potentially take away from — or at least be in competition with — the $100 million Kingsway Entertainment District, which is also in development.

"From what I'm hearing, is that the performing arts building, there's been no consideration to place this on the Kingsway location as we thought it was, originally."

With approval from the city for the business plan, staff will now get deeper into the design details of the Junction, including the specific needs for each building.

That's expected  to come before council for a look later in 2018.

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