Downtown lot now up for sale or lease

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After years of attempting to find a use for the city owned 50/50 lot next to Centre Square Mall, council passed a by-law Monday to sell or lease the lot at a value of $1.45 million.

As of Feb. 26, the city will be issuing requests for proposal to get the lot developed and move towards downtown revitalization.

The lot was originally purchased for the same figure of $1.45 million in October of 2014 to support a 2011 city counsel’s General Plan to spur development. The lot’s previous owner, Jack Walker, held out from selling to the city for a decade before caving and selling the lot at it’s 2007 appraised price.

At the time of the 2014 purchase three additional downtown lots owned by the city, were put on sale for $1.3 million. Those lots, which now make up the pop-up park between the Raven’s Pub and the Gold Range, still remain for sale today.

One year after the purchase the city fielded it’s first comprehensive plan to utilize the 50/50 lot with a $6.5-million plan to create an open-air plaza, which ultimately fell through.

In July 2018 council was presented a commissioned report from Theia Partners, which stated utilizing the 50/50 lot was a key step towards overall downtown revitalization.

The commissioned report stated the lot was in a strategic location for spurring downtown development forward and advised the city review caveats in selling, up-zoning the lot and use incentives to get the lot developed.

The city-owned plot of land has been part of a recent debate in city council on how the city approaches owning and leasing land.

Selling the lot

Coun. Niels Konge has continually expressed at Governance and Priorities Committee and Council meetings that the city should be in the business of selling land, not leasing.

At council on Feb. 25 Konge moved to strike “leasing” out of the by-law and to dispose of the lot through sale only.

“If it gets leased out at 5 per cent of appraised value, it would take 20 years to get money out of the land and the probability that someone wants to purchase it is slim to none,” Konge said.

Coun. Cynthia Mufandaedza echoed Konge’s sentiments of a need to sell the land as opposed to leasing.

“In a 5 year lease for example, I would worry that we’re losing out on a sale. Twenty years is a long time to make back 1.4 million dollars. Putting it up for sale would be the best option,” Mufandaedza said.

Strategic leasing

Though Konge made a strong case that many other councillors agreed with, Coun. Shauna Morgan, Coun. Julian Morse and Mayor Rebecca Alty argued that this was not the right time.

“I think we need, as a council, to have a higher level discussion about fee-simple sales versus leasing and if there are specific cases where leasing might be a good idea,” Morgan said. “Right now the motion allows the widest possible options so we can hear the ideas and we’re not restricting what proposals might come to us.”

Counc. Morse agreed and Mayor Alty said that having more options would result in better chances of seeing progress with the lot.

“I was hopeful that giving flexibility will result in proposals coming forward,” Morse said. “I see merit in potentially increasing the lease rate, but I don’t see leasing at 5 per cent as a loss, that would certainly be better than the land sitting fallow and unsold.”

When it came down to the vote, despite the support of Coun. Mufandaedza and Coun. Silverio, the amendment failed and proceeded to be passed as originally written, including leasing.

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