Friday, March 17, 2017

Sudbury Events Centre Should Drive Creative Class Economy

A 2.2% property taxes increase to support a facility that’s forecast to lose between $600,000 and $850,000 a year - that’s what Greater Sudburians might be asked to shell out to replace our ailing Sudbury Community Arena.  The experts seem to be in agreement: after 66 years, it’s time for ‘The Barn’ to close its doors.  A new events centre will be expensive to build and an on-going drain for the City’s operating budget. How can we possibly afford to pay for it?

The way I see it, we can’t afford not to.

Richard Florida, author of ‘Cities and the Creative Class’, has long made the case that successful 21st century cities are those that attract and retain creative professional workers (see:“Richard Florida,” Wikipedia).  Successful strategies to charm the creative class involve a focus on providing lifestyle amenities like transit, bike lanes and vibrant socio-cultural assets, rather than reducing road congestion. In contrast to large cities, mid-sized centres like Sudbury are strategically positioned to offer a balance of positive lifestyle experiences accompanied by a lower cost of living.

The Greater Sudbury Community Development Corporation’s 2015 economic development plan, “From the Ground Up”, recognizes the numerous opportunities our city has to attract creative class jobs (see: “From the Ground Up, 2015 to 2025,” Greater Sudbury Community Economic Development Corporation, 2015).  Although ‘Canada’s Resourceful City’ is known throughout the world for mining and supply services, Greater Sudbury has evolved into a leading centre for health and education.  This week’s announcement by Cambrian College and Laurentian University to grow research and innovation in our community will surely enhance Greater Sudbury’s reputation as a ‘City of Science’ – an epithet underscored by SNOLAB Director Art McDonald’s 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.

Investing in community infrastructure must be strategic, and over the long term, sustainable - economically, socially and environmentally. Costs alone can’t drive decision making.  Sustainable decisions are those that look at a complete range of both costs and benefits, and consider future trends, like climate change and higher fossil fuel prices.   When it comes to the long-term health of a community, minimizing impacts on our natural areas and species at risk habitat are just as important as an affordable tax rate.

A community events centre isn’t about turning a profit, as a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers made clear (see:“Proposed Sports and Entertainment Centre, Feasibility and Business Case Assessment, City of Greater Sudbury,” pwc (PricewaterhouseCooper), February 21, 2017). Very few similar facilities across Canada are operating in the black.  Most, like Sudbury’s Community Arena, annually lose money.  But so do transit systems.  And while Sudburians love to complain about our roads, I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest that the City get out of the roads business because roads aren’t turning a profit.

City’s aren’t businesses.  City’s deliver essential services, or services that enhance our quality of life.  If cities can make a buck out of service delivery, that’s fine.  If operating a transit system or providing police services aren’t profitable enterprises – that’s fine too.  Cities have other ways to pay.

Since our City is not likely to grow very much in the next few decades, a sustainable location for a new events centre will be one that supports the wise use of existing infrastructure and services.  Other mid-sized slow-growth cities have used new events centres to help stimulate redevelopment in priority areas of their communities.  Decision-makers in Greater Sudbury would be wise to learn from those experiences, and seek to maximize benefits for citizens and established local businesses.

A new events centre could be a catalyst to drive the kind of creative class economic development that Greater Sudbury is already pursuing.  Sustainability, rather than pie-in-the-sky optimism about future growth, must lead the conversation about the best location for a new facility.   Otherwise, we risk closing the door on an opportunity to help build up the parts of our community we are counting on for our long-term economic success.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Column: Sudbury centre would attract creative class," online and in print, March 11, 2017.