Even with the Province of Ontario telling the city their project duplicates many of the available services in the area, the game of money shuffle is on at city hall.
The report to council suggests a couple of options to continue with the project moving forward. The first, given the city is already looking at a bare bones project, doesn’t make sense to Deputy CAO, Community Development and Enterprise Services Tom Vair.
“To reduce the scale and/or features presents a difficult decision point that could impact the success of the plaza,” said Vair. “In addition, removing features/elements that would equal $2M would seriously compromise the plaza given the relative cost of each element.”
Instead, the city intends to find dollars elsewhere, pointing towards another project the Province said yes to as a possible source.
The McMeekan Arena twin-pad replacement was given $18 million by the Province of Ontario with an announcement made by Ross Romano earlier this year.
That money saved Sault taxpayers from having to foot the bill of the $32 million replacement on their own, something council was comfortable with doing.
Now, because money was saved there, it is the first target for city staff in the second option, finding money elsewhere.
“The City received positive word that the Provincial government will contribute $18M towards the twin pad arena. This project was approved to proceed solely with City funding and this funding announcement was a major boost for the City,” says the report to council.
They also suggest reaching out to the federal government who has another newly announced funding stream, even though FEDNOR has already granted $500,000 in funding for the plaza.
This report also makes a note that this project is well supported by the community.
“Brook McIlroy led a number of community engagement sessions with two public input sessions, a series of First Nations input meetings and an online survey. The vast majority of feedback from these sessions has been positive,” state staff. “In addition, the BIA has voiced its support for the downtown plaza and is taking an active role in the fundraising campaign.”
A poll taken by our organization shows 76% of 5,062 votes are against the plaza, and although there are a few positive public responses on various social media channels, many express the same thoughts as Jim, one of the people who publicly commented.
“The plaza is a major waste of our money. It is not needed now and it will never be needed. Many of its components are already in place within minutes of this location. The taxpayer dollars put toward this folly would be better spent upgrading or expanding other amenities of this type around the city.”
The one option not on the agenda, was cancelling the project completely despite some councillors going on record not to support it if the NOHFC funding request was declined.
“While I’ll hesitate to support it at this point, if any of the proposed funding doesn’t come through, I don’t think I will hesitate not to support it.” – Councillor Shoemaker.
Related story: Letter from Province may put Downtown Plaza Project on ice
The discussion around the project will be aired live on our Facebook page as well as on SaultOnline.com/ONNTV Monday night starting at 4:30 p.m.