Brant MP Phil McColeman and Minister of Human Resources Diane Finley didn’t surprise anyone when they committed the federal government’s $16.7 million share of a downtown YMCA-Laurier recreation facility during a news conference on Friday.
But they sure did elate them.
More than 150 people in the room at Laurier Brantford’s Research and Academic Centre gave Finley a standing ovation as she confirmed what they all expected.
“I’m here with you to announce that the Government of Canada is working with the Government of Ontario, with Wilfrid Laurier University, the City of Brantford and the YMCA of Hamilton-Burlington-Brant to build the Laurier Brantford-YMCA athletics and recreation complex right here in downtown Brantford,” Finley said before the room erupted with applause.
The partnerships that Finley highlighted were a theme running through speeches delivered by excited dignitaries throughout the press conference.
“A project like this is a lot like building a house of cards,” Laurier president Max Blouw said. “There are so many partners involved and so many steps in developing the proposal that if anything goes wrong, if any card comes out, it all falls apart and you have to start over.
“Phil (McColeman) is the guy more than anyone who kept those cards together and kept the whole project going.”
Gratitude for McColeman’s dogged lobbying for the project in Ottawa was another theme of the speeches.
“McColeman was relentless, absolutely relentless, in pursuit of this funding,” Finley said.
MPP Dave Levac, who helped secure a $16.7 million grant from the Province of Ontario in July 2011 that got the funding ball rolling for the project, said McColeman should enjoy the fruits of his labour.
“(McColeman), behind the scenes, worked tirelessly to continue to have us in the community go down this path,” Levac said. “To build a community that has post-secondary education as its focus.”
McColeman accepted the description of himself as relentless in his work, noting that the number of projects across Canada still getting funding from the Building Canada Fund is quickly dwindling.
“It’s much smaller numbers we are dealing with for these funding envelopes,” McColeman said. “I am so happy that our leaders like Minister Finley, Minister (Denis) Lebel and Minister (Tony) Clement all got behind this project. There is so much competition for these dollars.”
McColeman described a meeting earlier this year where the lead project partners shared their vision with Finley. He said it was a letter from Finley to other key members of the federal government that won the day.
Finley said it was easy to get behind the project once she saw its benefits and the stakeholders’ passion.
“But I gave them a serious grilling,” she said. “Especially about the financing from the other partners. Too many projects fail because that isn’t deliverable. But they passed the test and made it very easy for me to support this excellent venture.”
YMCA Hamilton-Burlington-Brant CEO Jim Commerford expressed his thanks and reminded everyone that one in four members of the Brantford YMCA receive financial assistance to participate in health and wellness programs.
“This project will help to improve the health of many,” Commerford said. “It will serve this community, not only in Brantford and Brant County, but Six Nations and the Mississaugas of the New Credit.”
The $16.7 million contribution, together with the matching provincial money and a $5.8 million commitment from the City of Brantford, leaves a gap of approximately $19.2 million in the projected $58.4 million project.
Laurier Brantford and the YMCA have committed to splitting those funds and combining their efforts on a community fundraising initiative.
Commerford said they have been working behind the scenes and will continue to do so as they prepare for a campaign.
He said the construction timeline is expected to be about three years in total, with one year for the design and preparation and another two years for construction.
Preliminary plans call for a facility that includes a dual-tank aquatic centre, areas for fitness and multi-purpose use with a large gymnasium that can accommodate up to 1,200 spectators.
Commerford confirmed that the partners are still looking at the now-vacant south side of Colborne Street across from Harmony Square as the preferred location.
There was much speculation that the long-awaited funding announcement would be made Friday after a news release on Wednesday that said all the key partners would be in attendance for McColeman’s announcement.