Economic development is down to building on existing parking lots. Is this the best we can do?



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON. June 26, 2013.  Economic development in the city has stalled.  Part of the reason is that no one knows how to give the people who are supposed to make economic development happen the enema they so badly need.  Burlington hasn’t seen a piece of good economic news for some time.

That may change but it won’t be because the Economic Development Corporation has done anything.  They have yet to get past setting out their governance standards and as a result have some members around the table more focused on their individual economic interests rather than those of the community at large.

Serving on the board of an economic development corporation means you leave your personal or employer related interests outside the room; that apparently is not yet the case in Burlington.

Head of the Economic development Corporation in Burlington, Kyle Benham hasn’t move the dial very much during his tenure.

Quite why the city’s banker or the local cable company are on that board is beyond me.  The banker’s marching orders are to make sure they don’t lose the city banking business and the cable company wants to be sure it gets the brownie points it needs to maintain the federal government license they have to operate their business.

There are more than a couple of people on that Board who know what has to be done and in the fullness of time they will succeed in totally reorganizing the Burlington Economic Development Corporation and getting it to the point where it is effective and fully focused on the job that has to be done.

That process seems to be taking quite a bit of time.  There are some timelines the most significant of which is the AGM next April at which time expect to see a new chair in place.

Burlington city manager Jeff Fielding came to us from London, Ontario where he was able to maintain development growth. Here he is seen at a London Council meeting where he moved things along rather smartly. He’s in the process of doing the same thing in Burlington. Fielding sits on the BEDC board.

The city can`t afford to continue experiencing the current state of economic affairs.  City manager Jeff Fielding advised council recently that he expect ICI (Industrial, Commercial, Institutional) tax revenue to be less in 2013 than it was in 2012; not a sustainable situation for the city.

Currently the Economic Development Corporation is a stand-alone operation that gets some of its funding from the city but had to do a significant amount of funding on its own – at which they did rather well by the way, but that funding work took the focus off the really important stuff – getting new business into Burlington.

The governance  discussion is believed to be revolving around dissolving the existing structure and bringing economic development back into city hall, where it used to be when Don Baxter headed up that work.  He is now a consultant working with corporate clients in the Fort McMurray, Alberta part of the country as well as serving on the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

Parking lot # 3 on the corner of Caroline and John Street will be re-developed as a structure that has several levels of public parking.  The city will look for an organization to partner with on this.  Is there revenue is selling the naming rights to the building?

The city for its part is pushing on a number of levels. They have decided to work towards getting better use out of parking lots 3, 7 and 8.  The thinking is that the city would look for a partner to build an above ground parking lot on #3, at the corner of John and Caroline, that will serve the shopping plaza just north of Caroline – which should soon be given a major make-over, as well as some of the overflow from Brant Street.

The MedicaOne project, on the corner of Caroline and John Street,  which expects to break ground soon will have some underground parking – something in the order of 100 spaces but that will get used by the traffic to the medical offices and the condo owners in that project.

Situated on the corner of Caroline and Locust any structure on this lot would certainly crowd the Different Drummer bookstore.

Lot 8, on Caroline immediately west of Brant, snuggled up to the Different Drummer bookstore and lot  7, on Locust south of Caroline will be made “marketing ready” with the city looking for potential partners.  There is a property right beside lot # 7, to the south, that is up for sale and could become part of a land assembly.

Lot 8 on Locust Street is closest to city hall. It serves people who meet at the Upper Canada location where Regus has been located for years.

The city is hoping that if it puts its property in play developers will take up the opportunity and do some building.  The problem is that there has in the past been no one at the BEDC that knows how to bring players to the table and close deals.  That is a very specialized skill; a combination of hustle, diplomacy and the capacity to schmooze, bundled up with a person who has contacts or knows how to make contacts.  There have been some new people added to the BEDC staff but that corporation has chosen not to say anything about these new additions.  Not a good sign.

The city also has to make a major decision as to what it wants to do about its own space requirements.  The lease it has on the space in the Simms building, right across the street from city hall, is due for renewal – does the city continue to rent or do they build and own?

Does the city expand on the space it has on Brant Street by adding to the back of the building or putting office space on Civic Square? Or is there a new city hall in the cards for us?

Councillor Jack Dennison, who certainly knows about this kind of stuff, believes the city could have paid for an addition to city hall with the money they have paid in rent to the owners of the Simms building.

The city could, some think, build onto the back of the existing building or perhaps build into the current Civic Square space.  Or – and this would seem to be the preference of city manager Jeff Fielding, the city could build a brand new structure that would be designed for the city that is now a much different place than it was when city hall was first built.

Parking lots 4 and 5 on Brant and John Streets get all kinds of attention when conversations like this take place.

The last time Council took part in a ground-breaking event it was for a park in the Alton Village part of town. No tax revenue there.

What we are seeing is all kinds of buzz and chatter but there haven’t been any announcements.  The property that International Harvest is currently located on at Guelph Line and Harvester, will be vacated soon as they move their operation to Hamilton.  We are not only not bringing in new business but we are losing the good ones we had.

This situation has been ongoing for some time – more than a year.  Changes needs to be made when there is a situation that has our ICI tax revenue facing negative growth relative to last year.

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