As the City prepares to transfer Marina Park property to a private developer this week, a recap of the process is in order.
The plan has gradually evolved always favouring the developer, until this point where even the ever-supportive CJ buried the story of the land transfer with no hotel on page 12 (March 31, Waterfront deal close).
At the start, concerns were raised even among members of the Waterfront Development Committee in 2006, as to the wisdom of private development within the park. But the concept of “bringing more people into the park” received approval, with the inclusion of one hotel and two condos with ground floor commercial space, amid much public concern. Forgotten was the fact that the ISF funding required no private sector development.
To accommodate the land needs for private development, a shell game of infilling between the piers to create more public land began, using ISF dollars, while selling and leasing previous public and new land for private development. As each set of negotiations followed, the city gave up more of the park. This included allowing for no ground floor commercial in the condos, instead giving more prime waterfront land for the construction of a building beside the rink, and where the colourful lawn-chairs sit, for future commercial.
Also given up was the historic CN Station, (which should have been the "centerpiece" of Prince Arthur's Landing) along with the restaurant and Model Train Exhibit and not to mention the ongoing legal expense to turf the Yacht Club, and break their lease. To replace the public space lost in the CN Station, the Baggage Building was expanded, costing far more than maintaining the CN Station. Private development has been given all parking behind the hotel and condos, which sits over our main city water main, as well as significant parking in the boater parking area near the Caboose. The expanded area created in front of the CN Station has been named "Market Square parking", apparently to serve the future commercial area immediately beside it. Lost is the Waterfront plaza, between Market Square and the lake.
Public dollars have been spent to build the Water Garden Pavilion, which, while attractive, is a rather expensive washroom and place to put on skates, with hopes of renting out the remainder of this costly public building for a private four star restaurant. Remember, there was a restaurant and public bathrooms in the CN Station, so no public gain here, other than adding to our debt.
In addition to the recent approval to award the remaining Phase 1 work estimated at $3.2 million to the developer, Manshield without competitive tenders, the city has approved an operating budget of $600,100 to operate just the Prince Arthur's Landing area of Marina Park. And Administration has said since, that may not be enough. With closed door negotiations taking place one could wonder what else we have to give, and why, to secure a hotel.
The Developer will now be able to build the condos before the hotel, removing the incentive to ensure a hotel is ever built. Could allowing the transfer of the property title now enable the Developer to “flip” this property with financial gain? In the industry, if there are any concerns with a project being built, I have been told that title would not pass until a portion of the building was complete, or “substantial completion”. Has the city imposed any financial guarantees?
As the public has embraced winter enjoyment of the park, we should be concerned that more of the park could be lost, and public access and enjoyment diminished as more space is allocated for private development. We have spent $60 million of public money with not a lot we didn't have before other than a rink, new docks, art and a new bathroom to show for it, with the beacons being a blatant reminder of wasteful spending.
Perhaps if the private development couldn't proceed on the original conditions agreed to and made public, it was time to reclaim the vacant space for a use more beneficial to the citizens of Thunder Bay.