By Peggy Revell on May 18, 2017.
The city’s “financially fit” program brought with it a mantra of budget cuts, upped taxes and fees — but councillors say $300,000 to upgrade the lot at 603 First St. SE is a justifiable cost.
“It’s been a noted need for many years but we’ve neglected it because of our bigger vision of developing it. The time has come, the reckoning of reality has come,” Coun. Robert Dumanowski said Wednesday, following Monday’s 6-3 council vote in favour of refurbishing the downtown lot currently being used as parking lot, alongside adding lights and decorative planters.
Dumanowski said he understands how the public could feel a parking lot could be left for another year — but pushing back infrastructure projects in the name of saving money can exacerbate problems and costs in the future. One example is the health and safety issue with the lack of proper lighting in the lot, he said.
“As much as financially fit says cut costs and maintain costs, and show financial restraint, the economics out there right now is we’re getting multiple bids on jobs, where for the last few years we were getting none or one, and they were exponentially higher than we had budgeted,” said Dumanowski.
Mayor Ted Clugston said he’s noticed on social media people commenting that the city should just sell the lot in the private sector.
“We would — it is for sale,” he said. “But of course it’s been for sale for 40 years and we haven’t had a bite. Do we sit on it for another 40 and let it deteriorate, or do we just fix it up?”
The one-time capital expense of $300,000 for parking is “drastically less” than other possible options presented — an $800,000 upgrade, or even a $2.5 million option that would redevelop the roadway area too, including a traffic circle.
Earlier scrapped plans for the lot included a multi-million dollar building, said Clugston, and these were plans before the Beveridge Landmark Events building opened.
“In some ways, I see the Beveridge building as that new exciting centre that attracts people to the downtown,” said Clugston, and with all the event it hosts there is a need for parking. “This is the best transitional fit for that parking lot for now.”
Upgrades to the lot should have happened a long time ago, said Coun. Jamie McIntosh, “over and above just the hope that something magical was going to happen there.”
“I’ve been sitting and listening to discussions on that lot for three years,” said McIntosh — whether it’s city or developer directed. “The amount of subsidy required to make something happen was far beyond what could be acceptable in my view.
“Sitting and doing nothing was not appropriate either, because things are happening downtown, and leaving it would be a negative.”
The site needs to be rejuvenated, said Coun. Bill Cocks.
“It looks like something that somebody walked away from and forgot, and I don’t think that’s what we want to see in the heart of our downtown in suck a prominent location,” he said. And while the city is being mindful of its finances, it’s not destitute, said Cocks.
The lot remains for sale, to the right buyer.
“Come along with an idea that shares our view of this lot, as an anchor, as a gateway to the downtown, and it’s for sale … it’s always been for sale, it’s been for sale for 40 years.”
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