Millroy: Lesson Learned On Downtown Plaza


It was startling to learn a couple of weeks back that delays and cost overruns were going to add $1.4 million to the cost of the Downtown Plaza.

And that is not really all of it.

To paint a true picture, you have to take in the $2.99 million cost of moving the Mill Market from its present site on Canal Drive to 73 Brock St., adjacent to the plaza, which brings the total up to nearly $14 million..

Council, when presented with the new figures for the plaza, approved only a little more than half the amount, asking staff to find ways to get by without the $660,000 it chopped. It plans to divert some money from the moving of the market as that project has been approved for additional funding from other government sources,

Through it all there was a question I didn’t see asked: What does this mean for the taxpayer who, despite the grants and donations, is still going to pick up a sizable portion of the final tab.

So I put some questions to Tom Vair, deputy CAO of community development and enterprise services, who is the City’s point man on the project.

Q. Does the contractor eat any of the costs for the delays or does this all fall on the taxpayer?
If Avery is eating some of the extra cost, shaving its profit margin, how much is it? If Avery isn’t participating, why not?

Vair: As indicated in the Council report, the City continues to discuss and negotiate the additional fees with Avery Construction. Avery has already reduced their request to the City for additional fees.

Q. How did the project get so far behind? I noticed on some days during the summer there seemed to be few people working there. Where they perhaps on other projects the contractor had on the go?

Vair. The project fell behind schedule primarily due to the delay in materials, which then eliminated the ability to pour the concrete pad for the skating rink in the late Fall. The rink pour will now have to wait until the Spring when the frost is out of the ground.

Q. I gather council balked at moving money from the Bellevue Marina. Is the $675,000 allocated for the marina still going there?

Vair. The marina project and/or contribution to the plaza project will be part of budget deliberations on Feb. 13 and 14.

Q. Was the $5,464,000 sourced from the Canada Community Building Fund specifically obtained to go toward the plaza or were these funds coming to the city anyway, which would have made them available to be used for something else?

Vair. The CCBF contributions can be allocated to 19 different project categories. (The list Vair supplied includes public transit, wastewater infrastructure, drinking water, solid waste management, local roads and bridges among others).
Traditionally, the City has invested all of these funds into road infrastructure projects. In 2019 and 2021, the City received ‘one time’ and ‘top up’ funds for the CCBF (additional amounts over the regular contribution). Our regular amount was put into roads as usual and a portion of the additional funds were utilized to assist with plaza construction.
2019 – $4.9 million additional funding was received of which $2.5 million was directed to the plaza and the balance went to other capital priorities including $1.9 to roads/culverts
2021 – $4.5 million additional funding was received of which $2.9 million was directed to the plaza

Q. What is the cost of the plaza project, excluding the Mill Market, to the city now?

Vair. With the increase that we were seeking the total project, including land acquisition, is $11.6 million. This in an increase of 13.9 percent over the previous total of $10.1 million. If you back out the funding and sponsorship received for the project ($1.13 million donations; $500,000 FedNor, $250,000 OMAFRA) and the $5.464 sourced from Canada Community Building Fund (formerly gas tax) funding, the City contribution from its own funds would be $4.25 million.

Q. What grant did the Mill Market get and for how much that it would allow the city to take money from the Market fund. Where does the fund stand now? What is taxpayer involvement in regard to funding the project?

Vair. The announcement of the grant for the Mill Market is pending so I can’t share details at this time. The budget approved for the Mill Market remains the same, the tender was awarded to Ruscio Construction and work is underway on site. The awarded tender amount was $2,994,000 plus applicable taxes.

The Mill Market was successful previously with a funding application to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Rural Economic Development (RED) Program for $250,000. The pending funding agreement is in addition to this amount.
If the grant is for $750,000, which I doubt, the city would still be on the hook for about $1.9 million. Add this to the $4,25 million for the plaza and the total cost to the taxpayer is $6.75 million.

Council granted about half the proposed $1.4 million increase, $675,000, following a suggestion by Coun. Angela Caputo.
She offered that the $1.4 million was a “pretty big ask” for a project the community has been so vocal about opposing.

Vair told council the city would make do with the increase approved by council.
I am not so sure it should have to.

I have been against this project from the beginning but considering it is so far along, I believe we should get the entire project as it was envisioned.

Do I believe it will do what was intended, revitalize the downtown?
No, I don’t. I am just saying we should bite the bullet and not let an approximate six percent saving (the $660,000) possibly have a detrimental affect on the finished product.

Along with that thought I am also suggesting Council never again get us involved in such an expensive and unpopular project. Lesson learned please.

Doug Millroy can be reached at [email protected].


  1. My God folks !!!! This…..boondoggle of a downtown plaza will be, in my opinion, the former mayor’s legacy project !!! The former council, for the most part, was a tax and spend group. And, I’m afraid, this new council is no better. In fact, I would say this new council will be even more creative when it comes to spending even more tax dollars we don’t have. It’s the liberal/ndp mantra. I’m sure many of you who voted for these liberal tax and spenders might just have buyers remorse. The ones I voted for didn’t get elected. Good luck to all of us who have to foot the tax bill.

  2. Meanwhile, progress on one of Ontario’s more unique construction projects seems to be full steam ahead. Haven’t seen any official updates but looks like we can celebrate the additional of a floor every week or two to the new Legion Tower. Rumour is that a dozen or so trucks a week bring in these concrete slabs and the building might be done ahead of schedule despite the shortage of concrete in the province. Cheers to those involved making this happen!

  3. A few days ago Sault On Line columnist Mark Menean noted that “The City of Sudbury has installed an “Office of the Auditor General” to evaluate expenditures. One can only wonder why you didn’t provide some support to Mr Menean’s idea that SSM could also use an Auditor? No disrespect intended as all of your questions were on point but Mr. Menean’s suggestion seemed an improvement on your implied conclusion that all we can do at this point, is chastise Mr. Vair and tell him not to do it again.. What I find particularly annoying was the attitude of many on the last council that citizens should just be quiet as we didn’t have any appreciation of what was good for us. Perhaps as part of the opening ceremonies for this downtown tribute to council arrogance the 1971 movie ‘The Panic in Needle Park” could be played as a grand opening feature.

  4. This is a boondoggle of the highest order. It will do little to revitalize the downtown. Moving the Mill Market is another stupid idea. The location has little to no parking unlike its existing location that should have been re-fit.

    If Tom Vair and his cronies think for one minute that the people who come to these venues will decide to venture further downtown after getting annoyed with the lack of parking etc. then they’re delusional.

    I was at an appointment yesterday with a health care professional who’s office is downtown and his observation was that the parents taking kids to the pavilion would be horrified of finding needles and garbage strewn around the site. They will not be making a return visit.

    Is Mr. Vair going to personally cover the Mill Market vendors’ losses because people will get tired of driving around in circles trying to park and say the heck with it and go to their favourite grocery store instead? Don’t think so.

  5. It is astounding that they are willing to pay just under 3 million to move the mill market to Brock Street. Why? A lot less money could have been spent on refurbishing its present location. The present location has plenty of parking whereas Brock Street has metered parking and very few spots.
    I always thought that when a bid is presented and accepted BOTH parties had to abide by the term. What is the purpose of tendering if the price keeps increasing? Avery should have to bite the bullet and absorb most additional costs.

  6. Thank you for asking those questions Doug.
    With this plaza including a rink, a new rink replacing the mcmeeken and this item in the 2023 preliminary budget…

    >Potential future debt requirements in the next 5 years include:
    >Major renovation projects at John Rhodes Community
    Centre and GFL Memorial Gardens $12.5 million

    That’s a lot of money spent on rinks.

    • Nick,

      Hockey, figure skating, ringette, public skating etc has high demand and there has been a shortage of availalable ice for years with the only ice times to be found in Echo Bay and Soo Michigan. We could open another rink alotogether and still fill evenings and weekends.

Comments are closed.