By Sean Meyer/London Community News
What began as a discussion about gaining 300 parking spaces in the downtown has become a referendum on whether those spots are needed in the first place or can even be afforded if they are.
During the Finance and Administration Committee meeting on Wednesday (Oct. 19), members battled over whether the city should continue to follow up on an offer by the Tricar Group that would provide an additional 300 parking spaces in the downtown. The Tricar offer would see the developer build an additional 300 spaces in the parking facility they are constructing for their own building on King Street while the city would cover the cost of operating the facility.
An offer by Fahri Holdings Corporation to build a similar facility was received by the city and then rescinded before the suggestion of constructing an even larger parking structure was suggested.
Based on the Fahri offer, Martin Hayward, city treasurer and chief financial officer, said there was now evidence of other possible community partners interested in building parking structures for the downtown. With that in mind, Hayward brought forward a recommendation by civic administration to undertake a competitive bid process the provision of parking spaces.
Ultimately, committee members decide to push that issue aside and focus on the issue of whether or not to proceed with the Tricar offer or — in fact — do anything at all.
Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe, back from her leave of absence to run for a seat in the recent provincial election, stated her believe London cannot afford to add any significant project without having the money budgeted to operate it.
“We jump into these capital projects without identifying how we are going to pay for the operations of them ongoing. There is $500,000 of operating funds that will be attached to this project isn’t budgeted for,” Branscombe said. “And in a time of constraint, this is the last thing that we should be doing. I just don’t think we should proceed with any of it.”
Responding to questions of whether there was money budgeted for the project, Hayward clearly stated taking on the project would require council find suitable funding for operations, either through a tax increase or the finding of savings elsewhere in the budget.
Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert would eventually suggest the issue be pushed to a special meeting next Monday so staff had time to bring forward further information on the situation. The members would eventually agree to accept that recommendation.
However, prior to acceptance of his motion, Hubert spoke not only in defence of the Tricar offer, but also pointed out the city cannot afford to follow a suggestion put forward by Branscombe to take no action at all.
“Ultimately any agreement would come back to council, but until we can enter into the negotiation process and get a better scoping of it, I think it would be prudent to allow our staff to go ahead and enter into negotiations and see what the contract says,” Hubert said. “To take no action means there is no RFP (request for proposal), there is nothing. You have put a cannonball through the bow of the boat under the waterline, it stops right there. We can’t do that.”
London Mayor Joe Fontana agreed, also took committee members to task on failing to be flexible enough to follow up on opportunities as they arise. While agreeing the funding for the project needs to be established (while also suggesting the operating cost is likely closer to $200,000) Fontana said it is clear parking is necessary for the further development of the downtown.
Do we need parking downtown? Absolutely. There has been an umber of reports over the past number of years that say if we are going to attract new employers, new employees, new investments to downtown, we need long-term downtown parking,” Fontana said. “The worst thing we can do is say take no action, do nothing. That would not be the way to proceed. We need a council that can be pragmatic and nimble. Not shout our eyes or close our minds.”
Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan, who put forward the motion to pursue the Tricar opportunity during the last council meeting, said there could be no question parking is needed in the downtown.
To back up his point, Swan pointed out that back in 1997, when the Covent Garden Market was under redevelopment, there was a parking garage with 700-800 spaces that the city removed 300 or so from. Also, when the city was busy providing incentives for residential development, “to attract feet on the street, people living downtown,” the city also reduced the number of parking spots.
“For the last 20 years I think most business people, most consumers, most visitors to the downtown have identified there is a shortage of parking,” Swan said. “I think we have to grapple with do we want parking or not. I think we need parking, I think we need it now.”