Central Park future decided in two weeks 0
COLLINGWOOD - Councillors will decide in two weeks the future for Central Park.
At a wide-ranging, two-hour session on Monday, councillors debated, analyzed and picked apart the proposal to redevelop the park into the site of a multi-use recreational facility.
The plan, as outlined by a steering committee over a 10-month-long process, would see the YMCA and the curling club tied into a larger building that would be home to a double-ice pad and community space. The plan would also see the Y build a 25-metre, six-lane pool suitable for competitive swimming; that plan has been in the works for several years, and the previous council committed $1.5 million - which is still sitting in a reserve account - toward a new pool.
The major sticking point for councillors has been the cost: $35 million. On Monday, that had some councillors suggesting the project be phased in over several years.
The proposal also contemplates the existing ball diamonds being relocated to another site, and the venerated Eddie Bush Memorial Arena 'repurposed' to another use.
The important thing, acting CAO Ed Houghton told councillors at the outset of the meeting, is that municipal staff have a direction that is clear.
Noting that while a facility such as a sewage treatment plant would be more costly, based on public input and opinion the Central Park project could be "the most important project this council will approve - or not approve - for many years.
"This is an opportunity for your (councillors) views and vision to be discussed respectfully," Houghton said of the meeting. "The decision doesn't have to be made tonight.
"We want to make sure what we're doing is right by council and the citizens."
Each councillor took his turn at the dais and outlined a vision. Several voiced the opinion the project should be phased in. Councillor Kevin Lloyd, who took the floor first, presented a 'three-stage' scenario that would see the immediate needs of a second ice surface and new pool addressed, along with refurbishing the Eddie Bush, with subsequent phases that could potentially see a 250-to-300 seat theatre and cultural facility.
"We need to keep this affordable and meet the immediate needs," he said, adding if the project were phased, the municipality could build it while still fundraising and developing partnerships.
Councillor Dale West said he wanted to skip the step of spending $44,000 on a consultant to conduct a 'market sounding' to determine whether there were potential partners - a motion that was tabled a few weeks ago - and advertise for a partner through a request-for-proposal process.
That way, he said, a potential partner could determine if the project should be phased in, as well as determine an appropriate future for the existing arena.
"This is infrastructure, but because it's ice and a pool, we keep dealing with it like it's 'toys'," he said. "We need to invest in our future."
West also said he wanted to deal strictly in numbers when it came to the Eddie Bush, and avoid any emotional attachment the community may have in the building.
"We will always have memories," he said, regardless of whether or not the building is there.
Councillor Keith Hull noted a lot of what was the Eddie Bush, captured in photos of long-ago teams, is no longer there.
Hull appeared to be the only council member who supported hiring a consultant for a market sounding, though he also echoed West's comments that council should not be swept up in the emotion of potentially closing the Eddie Bush as a hockey arena.
"For children in the community, even if they were born and raised in the community... they don't have that second ice surface," he said. "It's important to protect our heritage, and we may surprise ourselves with a market sounding... and come back with a better and higher use for the Eddie Bush... that creates a new legacy.
"There is a better future for that particular site."
Hull also questioned the idea of phasing, noting that ultimately, one need in the community would be satisfied, while other groups would be left wanting.
"There's a whole element of the community that said (the town) closed the Contact Centre and we're not phasing that in first, or that we need new aquatic facilities," he said. "That is the real danger that council faces, that in determining which phase goes first, you alienate a whole segment of the population."
Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd pointed out the community has a lot of other projects - the reconstruction of Hume Street, improvements to the sewage treatment plant, and a new fire hall - either in the works or on the horizon, and phasing the project in may be the most affordable option for the community.
Treasurer Marjorie Leonard gave councillors a run-down on the financing end, explaining the municipality has 'internal' financing available up to $13.46 million that would have no affect on taxpayers - including accessing development charges for part of the project, the proceeds from the sale of 50% of Collus to Powerstream ($8 million), and $2.7 million of debentures that would replace existing debt being paid off this year.
Adding $10 million to the town's debenture load for 25 years would add $47.29 to the average homeowner's property tax bill, while a $15 million debt would equate to an extra $70.93 annually.
The deputy-mayor also wanted to forgo a market sounding, noting that could potentially lead to yet another study - and before one knows it, it would be time for another municipal election.
"I guess I'm getting impatient in my old age," he said, adding the existing arena could still be used seasonally, as an ice rink in winter, and - by reinstalling the concrete floor - ball hockey in summer.
Councillor Sandy Cunningham also raised alarm bells about the $35-million price tag, suggesting it would be too much to bear for a community of 19,000 people.
"Don't want to sound negative because I'm not, but talking about a project of $35 million and that's a lot," he said. "We're a population of 19,000 people, we're not a huge centre, we have a $50-million debenture debt, but we need to move forward."
Cunningham said if he were the sole decision-maker, he would put a roof over the outdoor ice surface, refurbish the Eddie Bush, and fund the pool expansion.
"I'd like nothing better than to cut a cheque for $35 million, but that's a lot of money for 19,000 people at this point," he said.
Councillor Ian Chadwick also wanted to maintain the Eddie Bush, especially as it acts as an economic driver for the downtown. He noted he wanted to include the Downtown Collingwood BIA in any discussion about the facility and its economic affect for the commercial district.
However, West noted even if the hockey rinks were relocated to Central Park, "somehow, people will find a way to get downtown.
"We're not taking away from the downtown, because we're creating a second opportunity for the downtown."
Councillor Joe Gardhouse noted he still didn't agree with the site, and suggested Collingwood should have worked with another municipality to create a regional facility. That said, Gardhouse said council should respect the work of the steering committee.
"The committee has done a tremendous amount of work and we should take it to the end to see if it's feasible," he said, noting it appeared as though council - by its comments on Monday - were telling the committee its ideas were "pie in the sky."
That comment drew a stern rebuke from Mayor Sandra Cooper, to which Gardhouse apologized, noting he was being hyperbolic to make his point.
Afterward, Cooper said she thought the process of holding a workshop - on the third floor of the municipal building at Simcoe and St. Marie, rather than council's usual Monday night meeting place at town hall - worked well.
"We had a lot of great discussion, and a lot of questions about the market sounding... and that there are other options out there," she said. "We heard that $35 million is a lot to commit at this point in time, especially as we campaigned on fiscal responsibility.
"But this (process) was very necessary, because I had a sense around the table that either the wheels were spinning, or the wheels we're going to fall off, and this project would have been in jeopardy," she said. "Staff and the steering committee did an outstanding job, and it's got council thinking about how we can move forward.
"All the work has been done, and now it's up to council to make the political decisions."