The legal fight over the Kingsway Entertainment District means the project won't open on schedule in spring 2021, city council heard Tuesday night.
Instead, and depending on when the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal makes a decision, the Kingsway Entertainment District will open in late 2021 or early 2022, said Ian Wood, the city's interim GM of community development.
The most likely date for a decision is sometime this fall, Wood said. In the meantime, the city has finalized a cost-sharing agreement for preparing the land for the project with the other partners – Gateway Casinos and land owner Dario Zulich, who is representing himself and a potential hotel on the site.
The city has exercised its option to buy land from Zulich for the arena at a cost of $10, Wood said. And all parties have agreed not to begin preparing the site, expected to cost about $8.5 million, “until we have clarity from LPAT.”
“We are all moving in lockstep and have agreed to the revised schedule,” he said.
A summary of the cost-sharing agreement will be posted on the city's website by Jan. 25, Wood added.
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti spoke out against spending any more money on the KED, and called for city council to revoke Wood's authority to enter into agreements for the project. He also questioned why the city would buy the land when it doesn't know what LPAT will decide.
“There's a lot of uncertainty,” Signoretti said.
In his comments, Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo said he was speaking for the majority of citizens who support the KED, “not the few loud voices we've heard the last six months.”
“I look forward to the affirmation from the LPAT ... so we can get going on this project,” he said. “(Most residents) want to see something they can be proud of.”
Jakubo wondered whether the city could take advantage of the province's proposed open-for-business bylaw, which wouldn't be subject to LPAT appeals and would allow councils to fast track economic development projects.
“Is there any bearing that act” would have on the KED? he asked.
Planning director Jason Ferrigan said the legislation isn't passed yet, but even if it was, he believes it's only aimed at large industrial projects, not commercial projects such as the KED.
Mayor Brian Bigger agreed with Jakubo, saying he heard during the recent municipal election that residents want the KED done.
“The silent majority stands with the council,” Bigger said. “Citizens said, please just build it.”
While Signoretti wants all spending on the project to stop, Bigger said that would mean no more funding for the legal fight, or for staff to keep working on the site design.
In this process, he said the real costs is in delaying projects supported by residents, but being blocked by small groups.
He pointed to the three-year delay of improvements on Second Avenue, as a result of appeals to the province. The project went ahead without any changes, but costs increased by $800,000 because of the delays.
The city has spent $100,000 so far on legal fees to defend the KED at the LPAT.
“People have the right to appeal, but there is absolutely a cost to the game that is being played right now,” Bigger said.
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said she didn't like the implication of one of Signoretti's motions, which would have revoked Wood's authority to enter into agreements on behalf of the city.
All staff have done is what city council have asked them to do, Landry-Altmann said. Wood has committed not to begin any work until the LPAT makes a decision, and Signoretti's motion implies staff can't be trusted.
It's fine to oppose the KED, she said, but it's “unprofessional” on part of this council to put staff in the middle of a political debate.
“I would encourage everyone not to use that as a stick,” she said.
“I concur with Coun. Landry-Altmann on that,” said Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini.
“Staff have done exactly what we asked them to do, whether you like the project or not.”
After the debate, Zulich said he was encouraged to hear the councillors defending
the KED, and said he remains committed.
“The people want this project,” he said.