Law school dream takes $20M hit

Con­ver­sion of Paul Martin Build­ing now up in air as prov­ince pulls fund­ing

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN CROSS

A cat­a­strophic blow has been dealt to the city’s long-stand­ing dream of mov­ing the Univer­sity of Wind­sor law school into the down­town’s Paul Martin Build­ing. The $20-mil­lion com­mit­ment made just be­fore the June 7 elec­tion by the pre­vi­ous On­tario govern­ment un­der Kath­leen Wynne — to ren­o­vate the fed­eral her­itage build­ing into a land­mark law school — has been can­celled by the rul­ing Doug Ford govern­ment, Mer­rilee Fuller­ton, a spokes­woman for min­is­ter of train­ing, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, said this week.

Fuller­ton’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Stephanie Rae, said “the fund­ing for the re­lo­ca­tion is not go­ing ahead.”

In emails to The Star, she said the de­ci­sion is based on the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment’s prom­ise to re­store ac­count­abil­ity and trust to On­tario’s fi­nances. “Part of that process means mak­ing tough de­ci­sions about projects across On­tario. Our govern­ment is be­ing forced to clean up the ir­re­spon­si­ble and reck­less fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions of the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral govern­ment,” she said, adding that “empty promises” made by the Lib­er­als in an elec­tion year have led to a $15-bil­lion deficit. The govern­ment has iden­ti­fied a num­ber of projects that are “not aligned with cur­rent fis­cal pri­or­i­ties,” she said.

“We are mak­ing rea­son­able and prag­matic de­ci­sions on projects as we re­turn to bal­anced bud­gets.” The univer­sity had shelved the down­town move in the sum­mer of 2017 af­ter years of un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts to con­vince the On­tario govern­ment, which funds post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, to fi­nan­cially back it. But the $20-mil­lion com­mit­ment made by the Wynne govern­ment in May re­vived the project. Univer­sity of­fi­cials were as­sured that it was a “solid” com­mit­ment, ap­proved as part of the On­tario bud­get to pro­vide the money in 2019-20. Con­tacted Thurs­day, U of W spokesman John Cole­man re­fused to say whether the univer­sity knew about the Ford govern­ment’s can­cel­la­tion, or what the univer­sity in­tends to do about it.

“I can’t speak on be­half of the govern­ment but ev­ery­body knows they ’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cial is­sues and they’re look­ing for ef­fi­cien­cies, and we’ve got some plans and we look for­ward to an­nounc­ing them, and we’ll have more de­tails at that point,” he said. “I can’t say any­thing more at this point.”

He re­fused to say whether the univer­sity still planned to move into the Paul Martin Build­ing, which the fed­eral govern­ment has been hop­ing to dis­pose of. It’s been largely va­cant in re­cent years. The feds are ren­o­vat­ing a big of­fice build­ing at 441 Univer­sity Av­enue West to house many of its Wind­sor-area em­ploy­ees. It spent $3.3 mil­lion sev­eral years ago to re­pair the build­ing’s crum­bling lime­stone fa­cade but that was seen as just a Band-Aid pro­vi­sion that didn’t ad­dress its many in­te­rior de­fi­cien­cies.

The city was look­ing at buy­ing the build­ing for $1 and then turn­ing it over to the univer­sity to house the 800 stu­dents and fac­ulty in its well-re­garded law school. Coun­cil has agreed to spend $15 mil­lion to help with the ren­o­va­tion, as part of its strat­egy to re­vi­tal­ize the down­town by en­cour­ag­ing both the univer­sity and St. Clair Col­lege to es­tab­lish down­town cam­puses. Pub­lic Ser­vices and Pro­cure­ment Canada, the fed­eral agency man­ag­ing the build­ing, was un­aware that the prov­ince had pulled out of the $20-mil­lion com­mit­ment, spokesman Jeremy Link said Thurs­day.

“We con­tinue to have dis­cus­sions with the city about the fu­ture of the Paul Martin Build­ing, we con­tinue to be sup­port­ive of trans­fer­ring it to the city for a nom­i­nal sum for a pub­lic pur­pose.” Mayor Drew Dilkens was out of town and couldn’t be reached on Thurs­day to com­ment on the city ’s next move.

If the univer­sity doesn’t want the Paul Martin Build­ing for its law school, it does have some other po­ten­tial uses.

Wind­sor Pub­lic Li­brary is cur­rently search­ing for a new down­town site for its cen­tral branch af­ter agree­ing in March to sell its cur­rent build­ing on Ouel­lette Av­enue to the Down­town Mis­sion for $3.6 mil­lion. It in­tends on mov­ing into tem­po­rary space in the new city hall in June while a new li­brary is ei­ther built or ren­o­vated, a process ex­pected to take three to five years. The six-storey Paul Martin Build­ing — named af­ter the late fed­eral cabi­net min­is­ter Paul Martin Sr., fa­ther of for­mer prime min­is­ter Paul Martin — was built in the early 1930s and is con­sid­ered one of the city’s pre­mier her­itage build­ings.

It may be just the type of build­ing be­ing sought by Michi­gan tech com­pa­nies look­ing to es­tab­lish oper­a­tions in Wind­sor to take ad­van­tage of the avail­abil­ity of well-ed­u­cated Cana­dian and in­ter­na­tional tech work­ers. The for­mer Fish Mar­ket build­ing at Chatham and Ferry streets — set to open next year as a tech cen­tre for Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans — is on the same block and many hope it’s just the start of a wave of tech firms set­ting up in cool build­ings in the core. Down­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Larry Hor­witz ac­knowl­edged there are other po­ten­tial uses for the Paul Martin Build­ing, like a li­brary or a tech firm. “What­ever use that keeps it as a gem­stone in the core, we should em­brace, but I think right now the law school is our best op­por­tu­nity,” he said, re­fer­ring to the fact a law school has ma­ture stu­dents who have more money to spend and want to live nearby. That trans­lates to hun­dreds of more peo­ple liv­ing and spend­ing in the down­town, he said.

“It cre­ates so many op­por­tu­ni­ties around it that other uses might not,” he said. “The law school is one of the big­gest boosts you can do for the down­town. It would cat­a­pult it to a whole other level.”

He vowed to con­tinue fight­ing for the city, the prov­ince and the feds to get to­gether on this project. “We’ve gone through this where the law school is off the ta­ble, on the ta­ble, off the ta­ble,” he said, sug­gest­ing there’s an op­por­tu­nity to get it back on the ta­ble. “I’m still pretty op­ti­mistic about it.”

DAX MELMER

There were plans to ren­o­vate the Paul Martin Build­ing down­town as a new home for the Univer­sity of Wind­sor’s law school, but the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment now says it won’t sup­port a $20-mil­lion com­mit­ment made by for­mer pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne.

DAX MELMER

Turn­ing the Paul Martin Build­ing into the lo­ca­tion of the Univer­sity of Wind­sor’s Law School would have brought an in­flux of stu­dents into the core and been a boost for busi­ness. Down­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Larry Hor­witz said he re­mains “pretty op­ti­mistic” about the law school pro­posal.

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