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Possible changes in store for Waterfront Trust

Possible changes in store for Waterfront Trust

In the days of Mao Tse Tung in China, people desperate to decipher what was going on in the Chinese government would glean bits of information by reading graffiti in public places. A Hamilton version of that emerged at Wednesday’s meeting of city council as the Waterfront Trust came up for discussion. Councillors had blasted the Trust last week at an Audit, Finance and Administration for being a no-show for the third time for a comprehensive discussion of the agency’s future. Instead, a letter from the Chair of the trust was read out asking for more time in order for the Trust to complete a strategic plan exercise. That prompted the AF&A committee to vote to order a third-party audit of the HWT’s books with a view to finding out if the Trust was financially viable, since it had posted operating losses for several consecutive years.

When the matter came up for discussion at Council on Wednesday, The tone had shifted considerably since last week’s AF&A meeting. Trust member and former chair Jason Farr had no difficulty persuading councillors to agree to the later date, suggesting there had been some behind the scenes information-sharing. Farr, promised that all would be made clear about the Trust’s future if Council could hold off until April 21.

Sources familiar with the situation suggest that April 21 meeting could see a proposal to begin the process of winding up the affairs of the Waterfront Trust. The Trust has been kept afloat in the last few years by managing construction projects related to the Pier 8 redevelopment. Most of that work, at least the City’s portion, is now completed and there are no major city construction projects on the horizon that could be managed by the trust.

Should the work of the Trust be absorbed by the city, there will still be a need to either mange or contract out facilities like the Williams Coffee Fresh restaurant, the Trolley, the skating rink and other amenities that the public has come to expect.

In its early days when the HWT was burning through $6 Million in seed money that it had been granted as the result of the settlement of a legal action between the City and the former Harbour Commission; it operated completely independently of the city—ignoring requests for information, not submitting financials and sometimes ignoring city building permit protocols. Once its independent source of money was used up and it began incurring large financial losses, it became increasingly dependent on the city for construction contracts for its survival, and that called into question, not only its financial viability, but its rationale for existence as a separate entity.

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