Shell Game at the Waterfront

The city seems to be moving money around at the West Harbour like the bulldozers moving the dirt around on Pier 8. A pile here, a pile there, now you see it, now you don’t.

In a move termed budget smoothing, about $15-million dollars now needs to be “found”, because that’s how much various waterfront development projects are over budget.

Some of these projects are underway, like the replacement of the shore wall and the building of a pumping station on Pier 8. To be clear, Pier 8 is where the new housing and commercial development will be located. It’s to be built by a consortium called Waterfront Shores.

Other projects that are over budget, or projected to be over budget have not been built, have not been tendered, and in some cases no detailed plans of these projects exist.

To hear this budget smoothing described at the West Harbour Development Sub-Committee is to believe that this is business as usual. And maybe it is. But that doesn’t mean the process shouldn’t be clear and understandable to the citizens who fund projects through their taxes, or even to city councillors new to the committee.

Several of the councillors, Chad Collins and Jason Farr for instance, have been involved in waterfront development plans for years.

  It’s worth remembering that the current plans for Bayfront Park, the Macassa Bay and former MacDonald Marina area, Pier 4 and Bayview Park and the area around Williams Coffee Pub date back to 2007, when the Hamilton Waterfront Trust floated their vision of the West Harbour in a concept plan that eventually was blended into the city’s vision. 

Someday we should ask if all the ideas so salivated over 12 years ago are valid today.

At the most recent West Harbour Development Sub-Committee  meeting councillors heard city staff proposals for mopping up the $15-million budget shortfall. The proposal called for deleting some projects, deferring and scaling back others, and swapping priorities.

Subject to council approval: 

-The 2.8-million redevelopment of a Bayview Park will be cut.

-A big landscaped public path through Pier 8 will be reduced in width by 6 metres and pushed back to 2021, saving $1.8-million

-Improvements to Bayfront Park are slashed by over $6-million.

-The Macassa Bay Shoreline, Boardwalk and Trail will be trimmed by nearly $4-million and deferred to 2022 (much of this area is the former MacDonald Marina)

-The building of a $5.15-million dollar Police Marine Unit headquarters be pushed back to 2025, though Chad Collins succeeded in having this changed to 2022.

The shifting priorities, and movement of money seemed to sit easy with most members of the committee. Only Councillor Maureen Wilson asked several times for more detail and better explanations of the budget cuts.  Questions that citizens rightfully would ask at a public meeting.

For instance she wondered why the Pier 8 Greenway deserved to be trimmed by 6 metres, and where was that land going? Answer-We won’t miss the 6 metres, and the land could go to the developer.

After Wilson asked for a detailed explanation of the nearly $4-million cut from Macassa Bay Shoreline, Boardwalk and Trail, staff responses seemed to indicate there will be less benefit to the public, and more to special interests. The focus will be on the area around Macassa Bay Yacht Club, and one must assume, the Police Marine Unit building. A water’s edge trail or boardwalk will get a more modest treatment. The priority along with the money has been shifted to Piers 5-6-7.

Piers 5 through 7 is the money pit where the $15-million dollar budget shortfall landed. But even that figure is about as clear as the bottom of the bay.

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The staff report that went to the sub-committee said the actual shortfall is unknown since the detailed design is not complete and the project hasn’t been tendered.

Piers 5 through 7 are to include a shoreline rehab, a new boardwalk, artisan and commercial village.

The commercial bits will be done by private developers, so staff was told by the committee to get ready to sell some of the land, in addition they should find tenants for short term leases to keep the place “lively.”

Councillor Wilson asked what kind of conditions would be attached to the sale and leasing agreements – not too many –  according to the real estate department’s Ray Kessler.  Too many conditions he said bog down the sale.

Interesting that it was announced at the committee meeting that senior staffer Philbert Kim, the city’s specialist in waterfront real estate disposition was leaving to go back to the private sector.

To sum up the budget juggling, Councillor Farr said it has to be expected that in a budget of about $150-million+, these sorts of adjustments will happen.

That’s likely true, but it doesn’t mean questions shouldn’t be asked and clear answers given. That part needs improving.

Kathy Renwald lives on the waterfront, and has been reporting on the West Harbour area since the early ‘90s.

Kathy Renwald

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