Joe Swan says Fanshawe College can move into the downtown for $20 million less than proposed.
And like any parent who helped their kids find an apartment in London over the summer, the mayoral candidate said at Market Lane downtown on Thursday (Aug. 28) he had three property owners including Shmuel Farhi who were willing to sell to Fanshawe for substantially less than the $66.2 million renovation/expansion plan the college has for the Kingsmill’s Building.
He said the MET building or Market Tower could each be done for $45 million.
“Based on consultation with a lot of people in the real estate industry, (the cost) is much higher than any other school project in Ontario,” he said. “The overall cost of $66.2 million is simply too high.”
Swan said the debate isn’t about whether he wants Fanshawe in the downtown – pointing to the existing 400-student campus behind him (directly across Dundas from Kingsmill’s), he said there’s proof the college is wanted in the core.
“Council has committed to ensure educational institutions are welcome downtown,” he said. “Do we need to spend 10 more million dollars of taxpayers’ money or can we achieve the same result with $10 million less?”
He said Fanshawe’s own consultants found the Kingsmill’s building ill-suited to host a school and declared he had plans to meet with college president Peter Devlin and ask for him to formally withdraw the college’s request for another $10 million to make the Kingsmill’s deal happen.
He added that Kingsmill’s wouldn’t languish because as the chair of the investment and economic prosperity committee (IEPC) he was privy to news that there is a solid offer for the building from another buyer.
"Disappointed" the second phase of its downtown expansion plan had become so politicized, the college issued a statement Thursday afternoon directly rebuking Swan's claims.
"The project’s business plan for the Kingsmill property is fair, realistic and financially prudent," the press release read. "To suggest otherwise is without merit."
It said the Kingsmill property, across the street from the 400-student Howard W. Rundle building, is "ideal."
"Close proximity offers the ability to deliver student programs and services in a very efficient and effective manner. In support of the City’s downtown master plan, the property is located in the Education and Arts District, something stipulated in our agreement with the City."
It said councillors had an important decision on Sept. 2 (they'll vote on the $10 million ask again, this time with a $1 million rebate from downtown businesses), and that the college hadn't wavered from its position that the Kingsmill's proposal is a "big, bold," shovel-ready home run for the core.
Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown agrees, and said while out canvassing Thursday afternoon that his mayoral race rival's numbers are just “wrong.”
“The critical question is why would Joe try to attempt to delay, defer and potentially derail a project that would have such a positive impact for our community at the 11th hour,” Brown said of Swan's position. “We heard this week from president Devlin that they looked at 20 sites. Market Tower was not viable, in fact their due diligence showed it would cost more to renovate than the Kingsmill’s building.
"This is just ridiculous. How many other locations is Joe going to suggest other than Kingsmill’s?”
Former city councillor Roger Caranci, also running for mayor, said Thursday afternoon Swan was being disingenuous by rebuking Fanshawe after asking the college to come back with a bigger and bolder plan for downtown expansion.
“It’s hard to take somebody who says one thing and does another,” Caranci said. “It’s very clear that Joe approached Fanshawe for a bigger and bolder vision and he knew (that) meant more money but he’s acting like he didn’t.”
Earlier the same morning the former councillor released the newest plank of his election platform focused on small business.
Caranci says he isn’t going to promise to create jobs but to create the conditions for business to grow and locate in London.
He said a new small business officer within the city administration would focus on existing businesses and helping them grow, complementing but not duplicating the work of the Small Business Centre, which is focused on startups and incubation.
Caranci also proposes blowing up the IEPC, which he said has done “absolutely nothing for jobs in London,” and eliminating development charges for small businesses.
That would be music to the ears of Darryl Fabiani, owner of D&S Pianos on Hyde Park Road. The local business association recently wrote city council to express alarm over the $400,000 DC the business would incur if it expanded to build a small performance venue, and to request they consider an exemption for a variety of small and medium-sized businesses in the 2015 budget.
“D&S Pianos has already incurred significant investment into this endeavour but has run into a road block with the hefty (DC),” Hyde Park Business Association president Donna Szpakowski wrote. “These fees are simply not feasible for any business attempting to grow and present significant barriers for businesses in London to reach their potential.”