I am writing in response to your editorial dated Monday October 4, 2010 titled Down On the Waterfront. (see attachment)
I do no envy you. You have probably the most difficult job in Thunder Bay; Trying to find something positive to say about the Waterfront Development while ignoring the 400 lb gorilla in the room known as “the facts”. That “small but vigorous band of individuals who like to pick through every detail in apparent hopes of finding trouble” you mention are not experts in forensic auditing or contract law. Not at all. To find “trouble” in this project requires little more than the ability to read and some common sense. The fact that there is lots of “trouble” to be found is well….troubling. We are talking about an City Administration that are supposed to be professionals that do not make these kinds of mistakes. Lord knows. we are paying a lot of money for their services. As a taxpayer, I feel I deserve a refund. Not value for money here.
The statement “on schedule and on budget” is easy to say when you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Hear no evil, see no evil. The money runs out at the end of March. I am not sure what schedule the Waterfront Development Office (WDO) is working towards. There are many. One schedule has Ms. Dugmore claiming that $30M of the $50M COIS funds will go unspent if the March 2011 deadline is enforced. If that was her target for project completion, then I agree, the project is on schedule. The original schedule dated January 14, 2008 had work going on into 2012. If that is the schedule the WDO is using, then the project is on schedule but the budget will be short of cash after March 2011. I believe there is another schedule. A schedule that is adjusted everyday depending on the question being asked. A budget that seems to produce money for work on the private portion of the development while cutting the public portion of the development. That is the schedule and budget that is being used and I defy anyone to tell me what they say. I don’t think even City Council is privy to that information.
As far as giving the Prime Minister assurances that this project is on schedule and on budget, do you believe that any other response was going to be coming out of Ms. Peterson`s mouth? This entire project has been managed under the “ends justify the means” philosophy. Say whatever it takes to keep the project moving forward and the money flowing. Worry about fixing things later.
The argument over $1.1M spent on soil remediation, a sale price of $600,000 and a return after one year of $400,000 is nice if it were true. You must remember that the City of Thunder Bay has spent much more than $1.1M on the private sector portion of this development. Much more. There is the clearing of the land, the installation of sewer and water services to that property and the construction of a pumping station to name a few items that were funded by taxpayers dollars. There are more. If you add everything up, I believe it will take over 10 or 15 years to recover those costs not just one year.
As far as the CN Station is concerned, if it was losing money, maybe fingers should have been pointed at the people managing that property. That being said, I ask you to name one property owned by the City of Thunder Bay that makes money. Just one. If buildings are supposed to pay their own way in this town or be leased to the private sector for 100 years, then which other buildings should we get rid of? City Hall? It is costing taxpayers a small fortune to maintain annually. The Community Auditorium? The Games Complex? How about the Golf Courses? Chippewa Park? Victoriaville? The Landfill site? Tell me. Which one?
As for your assertion that the three buildings that form the private portion of the Waterfront Development will be erected together, that is not true. The hotel must be built before or at the same time as one condominium tower. There is no guarantee that a second condominium tower will ever be built. That is totally dependent on the rate of sales of the condominiums in the first tower. Mr. Joe Bova and Ms Gisele MacDonald said this on September 27 at the City Council meeting. In fact, there is no requirement that the developer build anything. Not in writing anyway. Maybe there was a handshake deal that nobody is aware of? The four star hotel you mention used to be a five star boutique hotel. Its losing stars at an alarming rate. Who knows what we will end up with if anything? A Motel 6?
Your last line is telling. It sums up this entire project. “Pending some unforeseen development that somehow scuttles it, Thunder Bay’s most exciting development in decades remains on track.” There are no guarantees. The City of Thunder Bay has signed an agreement with a developer that gives that developer the option to leave at any time with no financial penalty. The City of Thunder Bay has eliminated the few requirements the developer was being asked to provide as part of this development. The private portion of the development is not the only thing that is not guaranteed in this project. I believe that the site remediation work that is being done to the property that is being sold to the developer does not qualify for funding under the Canada Ontario Infrastructure Stimulus Fund. That $1.1M plus may have to come out of the 2011 City of Thunder Bay budget. This is an important fact that the taxpayers of Thunder Bay should be aware of. Something that your newspaper should be telling them. Why is it not?
Thunder Bay’s most exciting development in decades is a promise to construct a condominium tower ( maybe two ) if financing can be found for a yet to be determined 2 or 3 or 4 star hotel. I get all tingly just thinking about it.