Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report
The town is examining options that could lead to the sale of the old Niagara-on-the-Lake hospital site, a piece of prime real estate in downtown NOTL.
To ensure the integrity of the process, council is spending $25,000 in reserve funds to hire a “fairness adviser.”
While some councillors felt using reserve funds was unadvisable, they unanimously approved hiring the fairness adviser to oversee what is viewed as an important undertaking.
“This is a very important piece of property. It’s centered right close to the historic district, across from the Shaw Festival, and right near Fort George. So, it’s a very important piece of property,” Coun. Allan Bisback said in an interview Tuesday.
“I think that it’s very important that we have a professional, non-biased, procurement-focused individual who looks at the process and makes sure that everything is fair.”
Coun. Gary Burroughs insisted that a fairness monitor is necessary when dealing with a large property, telling councillors, “There’s many areas that become political only because so many people have great ideas for what’s going to happen. That’s why we need a fairness commissioner.”
The town purchased the hospital for $3.5 million in 2017. With real estate prices escalating since then, the land will be worth considerably more now.
Since the property was a large financial investment for the town, and will be a large source of financial gain should it be sold, Bisback stressed that the monitor should be someone from outside the municipality because the town needs to make sure residents are comfortable with the process.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor noted the town recently approved the hiring of a procurement adviser, whose job will be to help with projects like repurposing of the hospital site and asked town clerk Peter Todd why the town should hire a fairness monitor as well.
Todd said a fairness monitor “is typically a third party that removes itself from the process. (They are) there to simply monitor and make sure the process is fair.”
Chief administrator Marnie Cluckie noted the importance of transparency and stressed the town needs to ensure there is “no perception that there could be people being swayed” behind the scenes during the process.
Town treasurer Kyle Freeborn assured council that, should the property be sold, the proceeds will be used to pay back the money used to finance the original purchase and any excess could be put in the capital reserve fund, or used as councillors see fit.
The town is still in the early stages of the procurement process. The first step will be the issuing of a request for expressions of interest, through which the town will start accepting basic proposals for future use of the site.
Bisback told The Lake Report, if the land is sold, the whole process won't be complete anytime soon.
“I don’t see anything changing on that site for, I would suggest, a year or two years. We have tenants there right now.”
Due to the strategic location of the former hospital in Old Town, Todd’s presentation to council on the topic stressed that proposals need to be aligned with the town’s strategic goals.
Chief among those is a commitment to maintaining the heritage of NOTL, according to the town’s strategic plan.
But “the exciting thing about putting out a request for expression of interest is that hopefully we get some creativity,” Bisback said.
Cluckie told councillors all proposals, whether from non-profits, businesses or community organizations, will be considered.
“We (will) put the expression of interest out to get as many ideas as possible and not limit or give first right to any particular group. That in turn will help to establish the vision that council members have for that site,” Cluckie said.
A shortlist of the expressions of interest will be compiled and the town will issue a formal request for proposals. In the final stage of the process, council will decide what proposal, if any, wins approval.