Paving move short sighted

Packet & Times (Orillia) - - OPINION -

hen you own an ex­pen­sive boat or a large home or a big prop­erty, it can be an oner­ous propo­si­tion. Some have rightly said that you don’t own those things, they own you; they make con­stant, in­sid­i­ous and co­pi­ous de­mands of your time, en­ergy and fi­nan­cial re­sources. If you don’t in­vest that time, ef­fort and cash, the value of those ex­pen­sive as­sets can dwin­dle and di­min­ish quickly and be­come li­a­bil­i­ties.

The city is dis­cov­er­ing that – again. In Jan­uary of 2016, city coun­cil opted, of­fi­cially, to go down the path first charted by the pre­vi­ous coun­cil and spent $9.3 mil­lion to pur­chase the 70 Front St. N. prop­erty that is home to the Metro gro­cery store and other com­mer­cial and re­tail en­ti­ties.

Coun­cil, then and now, was not in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a land­lord. They ac­quired the prop­erty as part of a grand vi­sion to re-en­er­gize the wa­ter­front and bet­ter con­nect it with the down­town. In essence, the idea is to bull­doze the mid­dle part of the aged plaza and ex­tend Cold­wa­ter Road through the prop­erty to open up views and ac­cess to the wa­ter­front while join­ing the back end of the prop­erty to the for­mer rail­way land they al­ready own to cre­ate de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial.

One of the chal­lenges with that am­bi­tious move is the jug­gling act needed for coun­cil to bal­ance that long-term vi­sion with the short-term re­al­ity of be­ing a land­lord — a chal­lenge that landed on their lap Mon­day night when faced with a de­ci­sion about paving the lot at the Metro end of the prop­erty.

Al­most since the day the city bought the prop­erty, Metro of­fi­cials have been call­ing on their new land­lord to fix the lot — de­mands they also made of the pre­vi­ous owner. Es­sen­tially, coun­cil­lors were told there were two op­tions: spend $35,000 to make re­pairs as part of a quick, short-term fix or bite the bul­let and in­vest $400,000 into a full repaving project that would have a life­span of about 25 years.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla ques­tioned the wis­dom of mak­ing a de­ci­sion be­fore an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of Front Street is com­plete while Coun. Ma­son Ainsworth said he is wor­ried this ex­pense will be the first of many. “How many patch jobs will we be look­ing at in the fu­ture?” Ainsworth won­dered. Good ques­tion.

In the end, coun­cil­lors opted for the cheap fix. It’s also a short-term so­lu­tion at best. City prop­erty man­ager Ted Hill said the paving job buys the city “a few more months, maybe a year.” It’s a lit­tle like think­ing an um­brella will keep you dry in a trop­i­cal storm.

This ex­pen­di­ture and the spec­tre of many more sim­i­lar re­pairs and main­te­nance is­sues is ex­actly why so many peo­ple were con­cerned about coun­cil buy­ing the prop­erty. One can only won­der how much money will be spent in the months and years be­tween to­day and when that larger vi­sion be­comes a re­al­ity.

The real con­cern is that those pesky, short-term ex­penses and patch jobs over­whelm and over-ex­tend the city’s re­sources and take the fo­cus off the long-term grandiose plan that, while am­bi­tious and for­ward­think­ing, might prove un­af­ford­able and un­reach­able. — The Packet & Times

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