By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Earlier this past summer, the community came forward with 49 proposals designed to create economic prosperity in the Forest City.
Those projects determined to be the most ready will be brought forward in a staff report set for release on Dec. 18. However, before that, the process designed to narrow those proposals down was under discussion during the Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee (IEPC) meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 27).
Harvey Filger, director of corporate investments and partnerships, delivered an update on that process on the same day updated versions of a trio of high profile proposals were received by the committee. Those plans, including a pair brought forward by the Grand Theatre and Music London (including Orchestra London) around a new concert hall, and separate proposal by the Pillar Nonprofit Network, were on the agenda, but Filger said further details couldn’t be brought forward at this time.
“We were advised by the clerk’s office that everyone got one kick at the can. However, in this case we got two proposals that are so radically different from what was originally presented, I think a cursory review would say they are much better from a city perspective,” Filger said. “But we have to evaluate them to make sure our process is viewed as being fair and on the up-and-up.”
The Grand Theatre and its partners, Sifton Properties and Auburn Developments, are requesting a land swap in place of a straight-up financial request.
The plan would include flipping a city-owned parking lot on Queens Avenue with that of the Sifton-owned lot located directly behind the Grand. Plans currently state the Grand would be expanded into that lot along with Sifton building additional parking and a residential tower in the space as well.
The Queens Avenue parking lot was also a key part of a proposed residential tower spoken about recently by developer Shmuel Farhi.
The proposal from Music London would see construction of a musical hall that would replace Centennial Hall. There are several proposed sites for the new hall, including one owned by London Life in the heart of the city and another owned by Middlesex County facing the Fork of the Thames.
Unwilling to speak on many specific details of the two music hall proposals, Filger did say the big difference between the two is what is being asked for. The London Music group is asking for $10 million while the Grand proposal requires the Queens Avenue lot, which last year Filger said generated “about $165,000 for the city.”
Fontana, who said he thought presentations were being made around the two musical hall proposals, said he was nonetheless “enthusiastic” about what the competing ideas.
“There was a time we didn’t dream, didn’t even want to think about what is possible in the City of London. So we asked people to come forward . . . we threw out that net and got some incredible proposals,” Fontana said. “That speaks to the broader vision about the kind of city we want to see. There continues to be that sense of excitement, that sense of purpose, that sense of opportunity, that we keep speaking about.”
While the revised proposals were accepted by the committee, and will be evaluated by staff, it was the process around finding the best projects available to the city that was discussed by Filger and the committee.
Those 49 proposals, Filger explained, went through a council-approved scorecard designed to help staff prioritize the proposals. The due diligence done on these ideas was reviewed in order to develop a short list with 12 proposals submitted completed checklists.
Some in the community, Filger said, found the checklist too difficult. However, he said it became a vital tool in determining priorities.
“In some cases we had half a page and a request for several million dollars. We have to have some way of discerning what was behind it, what we could evaluate,” Filger said. “What we asked for was significantly less than, for example, what a bank would want for a loan. We have to have a basis by which we can measure proposals and deal with the budget process.”
How these projects fit into the budget process was something IEPC chair and Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan was concerned about. The budget, Swan said, is the council’s “traditional envelope of tax-based services” that are offered to citizens, agencies, boards and commissions.
However, with IEPC having its own mandate to develop a financial plan for wealth, prosperity and job creation, Swan wanted clarity on what happens when the short list of projects comes forward Dec. 18.
Martin Hayward, city treasurer and CFO, said the budget process will be blended with the budget so councillors will have a financial plan moving forward. That plan is particularly important, Hayward said, budget negotiations are soon to take place.
“Then it will be blended in to the overall discussion around budget based on what the financial plan is,” Hayward said. “And what we recommend may not be what you want to follow, you may want to do something different. We will recommend to you the best plan we see to achieve this economic prosperity plan.”
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