Why did Tech Place get prime space at Bateman; why is the city making decisions with nothing in the way of public engagement - and where is the vision ?

By Pepper Parr

June 7th, 2023



A reader has suggested, quite vociferously, that the article that was flagged as news should have been identified as opinion

Councillor Paul Sharman understands how business works. He knows both sides of a balance sheet and is quick to point out where the flaws are in a business case. No one else on Council has the depth and breadth of business he has. Councillor Galbraith has a solid business understanding at the small business and development levels but nowhere near that of Sharman.

The rest of Council flop around on the financial stuff except for Kearns – she is very smart, has a quick wit but when push comes to shove – she folds.

How did Tech Place get prime space in the planned community hub ?

When discussions were focused on who was going to use which space at the former Bateman High School site Sharman said: “I have never actually understood how Tech Place jumped the queue. So when I start hearing that spaces will be revenue generators and that there will be two sides to the balance sheet I ask what “would the use of the space be other than revenue generating”adding that “ when I don’t know how that is being measured in terms of an allocation of the space” I have questions..

“How did they get in on premium space at grade, excellent floor space before we even had the ability to gauge community interest for that space.?”

Sharman is quite right. Tech Place just appeared on a floor plan but there was a solid reason for that.

Tech Place is in a location paying rent that is way beyond the capacity of its revenue stream. The lease was low rent at the front end to give them time to get the operation off the ground.  The launch was impressive but it doesn’t look all that good at this point.

He might well have added: Does anyone know what Tech Place does and its relevance to the city?

Chair Stolte asked if the City Manager wanted to jump in ?

He did and said: “So going back, I think the original concept involved five organizations that we saw as coming together and creating a synergy around sort of learning and obviously active living. I mean, it’s essentially a component of economic development.

Commisso didn’t fully understand the history of Tech Place and the beating they were taking on the rent structure former Goldring Chief of Staff Frank McKeowan put in place.

It was Councillor Angelo Bentivegna who spotted the Tech Place rent problem.

It was Councillor Bentivegna who spotted the problem during a budget discussion in, I think 2018.

Rent for the final year of the lease was going to be $330,000 for an entity that didn’t have very much in the way of a revenue stream.

Tech Place served a purpose but Sharman is right – it doesn’t qualify as the user of the space that has been allocated to it.

The issue will come up at the next Council meeting later in June.   It is going to be interesting how Commisso finesses this one.

City Manager Tim Commisso expected to answer questions on matters that took place before he started the job he has.

Commisso noted that the lease for the space on the North Service Road expires soon it may have already had an extension. Commisso saw the hub as an opportunity to integrate a relatively small space – I think it’s 1000 square feet. He didn’t think it was an independent, separate organization. “It was part of our relationship and our support for economic development” he said. “I would say they were seen as synergy with an opportunity to move forward in a much lower cost environment.”

“I’m going to support that organization which does really a lot of business development work. You know that is really in line with what I think councils were focusing on.” Commisso offered to report to Council with a more specific response.

Sharman came back with: “Maybe we do need something back to council because from a governance perspective, if we are in essence tendering community space, it would make a lot more sense.”

Sharman added: “I’m hearing about an urban indigenous space. We haven’t even touched on the entire theme of inclusivity and I’m just wondering, this will be my second question, has staff planned to address that inclusivity piece for folks that may or may not have the appropriate levels of funding. If this is going to be an ROI or a revenue generating opportunity.”

Denise Beard, Manager of Community Development

Denise Beard, Manager of Community Development said: “I think that will come out; we’ve already been in tonnes of discussion with various groups who have stated an interest; many of them fit some of the criteria.

“We will work with them to make sure they understand what the expectations are. And then we will come back to committee and report on what we heard. We’ve talked a lot about dollars and cents here, but pending committee and councils wish that’s a decision we have to make. Right? Are we looking to generate revenue through these spaces?”

“Are we looking for a mix? What does that look like? I don’t have the answer to that. But we’re open to all of it and we’re open to coming back to you with some options for a follow up discussion.”

Councillor Sharman wanted to go a little further. “I’m going to continue on with my two questions. I’m going to start with a continuation of this space question. I’d like to know what the history is of how we design our community centers. Is it commonplace and is it our practice that we look to fill the space with potential revenue generating organizations before we have the conversation about how the community would like to use the space ?”

Alan Magi,  Executive Director of Environment, Infrastructure and Community Services  started with:”I will start with this observation that Bateman is different than a new build. We would start and decide how much square footage the community needed; whether you need a pool there or a gym or community rooms. This one as everyone was aware was an existing high school so we had a given square footage we had the former owner, the school board, indicating that one of the conditions of sale was to retain a certain amount of space in a long term lease arrangements which helped with the purchase.

“We’re kind of working through the space a little bit backwards and coming up with a residual amount in it; as opposed to starting from the ground up and asking do we need a gym Do we need a community room and then sort of building that.”

The city bought the building and then began thinking about what they wanted to do with it.

“We bought a building and now we’re renovating and determining the best uses, looking at sustainability in the long term. We’ve got our partners – recreation and culture on as well.”

Sharman comes back with: “I certainly know that working backwards is a little bit different, but perhaps I should have phrased my question to be specific. There are 30,000 square feet leftover after we have dealt with our partners.

Councillor Paul Sharman – asking a lot of questions.

“I don’t believe that we looked at Tansley Woods and designed it asking how many dedicated spaces do we want in there and then what’s going to be left over for community rooms? I’m pretty sure we did the opposite. And that’s what I’m asking is why is this one being done differently?

“That was the purpose of the simultaneous engagement so that we can ask the public, how much organic community space do you want available, and then whatever is left over is how we engage with dedicated space organizations.”

What is uncomfortably evident is that while the concept of buying a high school that had been closed was a good idea – the problem is that there is no clear vision, no input from the public and a lot of pressure to get the place to the point where it is operational.

What will it all cost?  Don’t ask.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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5 comments to Why did Tech Place get prime space at Bateman; why is the city making decisions with nothing in the way of public engagement – and where is the vision ?

  • Joe Gaetan

    Just an observation, but it would be helpful if the Tech Place website listed its success stories.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Hmmm” coming together and creating a synergy around sort of learning and obviously active living. I mean, it’s essentially a component of economic development”. Nice sound bite. Try asking for a bank or the EDC for a business loan based upon using word salad instead of a well founded business case, and see where that gets you.

  • Jim Thomson

    It was Councillor Kearns who questioned how come TechPlace got prime real estate, not Sharman.
    It was Stolte that was concerned about inclusivity not Sharman.
    It was Stolte that said they were working backwards, not Sharman.

    Sharman was more concerned about moving the meeting along.
    Sharman was also concerned about the cost of the engagement process.
    He was particularly concerned about how asking to have public meetings and a mailer were increasing the cost. He basically accused Kearns and Stolte of micromanaging the process.

    Sharman may know how to read a balance sheet but he chose to keep the total cost of this project from the public. He was completely silent on the schedule slipping by a year. There is a cost to the City for that slippage. How come he didn’t raise that issue?
    He is also clueless about construction costs. Contractors make their money on change orders. There is no way that he should have accepted Alan Magi’s assurance that the change to the parking area would be dealt with via a change order. The scope of the parking should have been removed from the base tender.

    Sharman accused the other councillors of having faulty memories. Yet he was the one asking why there was only 21,000 square feet of space, he was expecting much more. The 21,000 square feet was known in December. That came in response to a question by Councillor Kearns about “net new” space about which Sharman opined that he didn’t understand the terminology. In fact there were 36,000 feet identified in December for Phase 2, but 9000 is now known to be only temporary and the balance is the change rooms and a small Cafe.

    Kearns and Stolte are the ones asking questions about Bateman. Sharman is defending his legacy.

    • Jim Thomson

      Just watched the video of the meeting.
      It was Councillor Kearns who raised the issue of inclusivity.

  • Chris Ariens

    The whole idea of Tech Place occupying core space in a community recreation centre doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    The idea for Tech Place was a place where startup companies could have dedicated office space and shared facilities to help them get off the ground and allow the local business community to use the space for flexible work, meetings and events.

    There are no significant employers in the vicinity of Bateman. It is not near the GO station which would be provide accessibility for prospective employees. As envisioned, it has parking challenges.

    Councillor Sharman is absolutely right to be asking these questions. While there may be a good business case for having this service, why does it have to be at Bateman? Can they not rent private office space near one of the transit hubs where it would be more accessible? Or is its’ business case dependent on the city financing the rent?