The illusion of progress, decoding the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment

By Gerry Barker

July 20, 2018

Gee! And all this time we were told the proposed downtown main branch library was only going to cost $53 million. It has now morphed into an 88,000 square foot facility in the proposed $350 million Baker Street redevelopment plan.

Instead, the city staff, buttressed with the signatures of eight senior managers, convinced city council to approve the huge redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot. The public library being the anchor of the development.

Costs were estimated to range from $315 million to $360 million but staff said the real costs have yet to be determined. The inflation factor for the next six years will boost today’s average cost of $350 million by at least 15 per cent or an additional, estimated $52.5 million.

Then there is the strange inclusion of some $29 million that the city claims it has already invested toward the redevelopment plan. Some $22 million of that is the Wilson Street Parking garage now under construction adjacent to city hall. Why is that capital being assigned to the Baker Street plan?

It was announced that “green” private developer from Ottawa, the Windmill Development Group, had been selected to be a 3P partner – Public Private Partnership over four other private proposals, Windmill’s design proposal was accepted and will create a huge downtown complex complete with hi-rise residential, commercial retail, possibly a Conestoga College campus.

The “green” reference is because Windmill will create “innovations in land use, water, air, energy, design, waste management and smart building technologies to create healthy, high performance green buildings and communities and underground parking.”

Wow! That’s a lot of green

Let’s get real. This project will not even put a shovel in the ground before 2024, six years from now. Why is this lame-duck city council approving this now without knowing the real cost in today’s dollars?

What is the cost sharing arrangement?

What is the city’s financial and legal exposure in this proposal?

The staff is pushing this today when it is apparent that the first book or video taken from the proposed downtown library, under perfect conditions, will not occur until 2028.

Comparing it to the length of time a major similar development has taken to complete is the new Guelph Police Headquarters.

Council approved spending $34 million on the project in August 2014. Almost four years later the job is still not finished. Perhaps I missed my invitation for the open house.

Early in the process the police issued reports of the progress of the renovations to a vital public safety HQ that continued to function. But there has been no report on the costs and whether it is going to come in on budget.

If this is any example of completing complex buildings then this could easily be a ten-year project to complete.

The Baker Street redevelopment can be an important addition to the downtown but we need more specific information, not just the potential news of more jobs, more money spent and more property tax income.

Let’s skip the gravy and get to the beef

This announcement’s urgent approval smacks of politics to demonstrate how progressive and action oriented the city council is under the leadership of Mayor Guthrie.

It’s another ram job by the mayor in this election year to enhance the image that he is doing a great job, when in fact his track record has failed to come close to the promises he made in 2014.

The capital spending deadline in an election years is mid-August.

The risk is that this city council is committing future councils to a multi-million dollar spending on a project that will be costly to cancel now that it has been approved bu council. Financing, beginning today and extending for the next ten years will daunting regardless of who is in power.

When is the Guthrie administration going to tell the truth about all those closed-session meetings concerning management of the public’s money, that have shut out the public?

As the British paratroopers dropped in Holland in WW 2, their objective was to take and hold the bridge over the Rhine.

It turned out to be a bridge too far.

It’s a lesson in failed strategy that city council should consider.

Most councillors, if not all, will not be around to see the Baker Street redevelopment completed.

It is their bridge that is too far.



Filed under Between the Lines

10 responses to “The illusion of progress, decoding the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment

  1. Elaine

    Just one more project of the Mayor and Council who spend money the City doesn’t have and the tax payers will be on the hook for through increased property taxes. When does all this spending end. It’s time to vote this group out and a no frills group in.

  2. Rena

    Definitely time to stop this madness.

  3. geo

    Guthrie voted in favor of this?

    • John McCuaig

      Guthrie has,since being elected, hasn’t been honest to the majority of the people in the city,as far as I can tell. Wants to have everything his way even if that means breaking the law!

  4. John McCuaig

    I have left the royal city because of high costs but it seems to me that when the city owned the Eaton centre,that would have been an ideal location, parking,bus service,built on hard rock, that they gave this location away! Still waiting for the 3rd floor, geared to income housing, housing to be built as what was in the agreement, supposedly!

  5. Louis

    May interest for you to know that the former provincial NDP candidate of Guelph is running as mayor.

    I’d rather have two more terms of Guthrie than a term of her.

  6. Spend

    A three way race with Gerry might split with Cam letting the Dipper sprint to the win. How about running for councillor Gerry? Last thing Guelph needs is inexperienced NDPer as mayor.

    • Louis

      If Gerry runs it can split the vote between himself and Cam and Aggie will win. He needs to split the vote in a vulnerable ward to get a progressive councilor out.

      Ward 4 already is going to change hands. Peter Hamtak is running and it will already take votes away from Salisbury

  7. This is the kind of lack of transparency that Guelph will not stand for any longer.

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