Brantford city councillors have given initial approval to a $5.84 million grant from the city to help spur the development of a long-awaited YMCA-Laurier recreation centre on the south side of Colborne Street.
“This project is very unique in the extent of its collaboration,” said Brian Rosborough, Laurier’s director of government relations. “It gathers a large community under one roof by bringing together area residents and students for community programming, health promotion, learning and athletics.”
The planned facility would include an aquatic centre, fitness facilities, multi-purpose space and a 1,200-seat gymnasium.
The total estimated project cost is $58.4 million.
Officials from the YMCA and Laurier on Monday told councillors they needed the city’s commitment to move things forward.
The provincial government announced $16.7 million in funding for the project last year, but Rosborough said project planners were hitting dead ends with the federal government.
“We followed just about every avenue that was available but were ultimately told that we would not be successful in securing money in this fiscal climate, that stimulus funding had been completed and recreation was not a key priority,” he said.
But Rosborough said project planners then learned about the possibility of money available through the Building Canada Fund.
“There are a couple of very important rules with the fund,” Rosborough said. “The federal funding can only be up to or equivalent of the provincial funding and there is a requirement of (10 per cent) municipal contribution to the overall project.”
That means that without the $5.84 million from the city, the application for funding from Ottawa can go no further.
Council voted 10-1 to approve the project in principle and agreed in the motion to sell land on the south side of Colborne Street to the proponents.
Mayor Chris Friel said, from the city’s perspective, the investment is a winner all around.
“We get to square off Harmony Square, it’s an athletic complex available to the south end and Eagle Place and the value…will increase dramatically once it’s built.”
Rosborough said the project is now being considered for land opposite Harmony Square and next to Grand River Hall, at the east end of the south side of Colborne Street. Originally, the project was proposed for the west end of the south side of Colborne.
Coun. Dan McCreary said a price for the land still has to be negotiated and that the city’s $5.84 million grant could be borrowed and paid for with casino money in the future.
In a 2009 presentation to the city, Laurier suggested a donation of land for the project, but Friel said the city intends to sell the property to the proponents.
“We are not giving everything away,” he said. “We are very realistic with the city’s financial position here in 2012. We have told them we intend to sell the land and the partners are all aware of that.”
Laurier president Dr. Max Blouw said the $58.4 million project cost estimate does not include the cost of purchasing land, but that partners are prepared to deal with that when a price is negotiated.
Coun. Richard Carpenter was the lone councillor to vote against the project. He said council was being too secretive with the land sale portion of the agreement.
“How much will this cost the taxpayer in the end?” Carpenter said. “Well, we know, but we are not allowed to talk about it. I want to make sure we get $3 million to $4 million or whatever the appraised value is.”
Councillors held in-camera meetings during the past two weeks before voting to make most of the proposal public at Monday’s council meeting.
Friel said council would have a better idea of how to pay for the grant in coming weeks, but that politicians are committed to keeping the cost off tax bills.
With $16.7 million from each from the federal and provincial governments and $5.84 million from the city, the YMCA and Laurier have each committed to contribute $9.6 million to get the total to $58.4 million.
Rosborough said the YMCA and Laurier would be launching fundraising campaigns to generate some of those funds.
A draft artist’s rendering of the facility shows a building elevated on stilts along Colborne Street.
“We have heard it is very important to residents of Brantford to maintain the vista,” Blouw said. “The architects have done something creative by lifting the building to allow street-level viewing of the river and local flats. Imagine an aquarium lifted up on a number of pedestals.”
Rosborough said, thanks to council’s quick approval, he hopes to see an announcement from the federal government in the spring.