The Fanshawe-Kingsmill’s proposal has been passed at London City Hall.
In an 8-7 vote, London City Council voted in favour of contributing $9-million to help Fanshawe College purchase the historic Kingsmill’s building downtown.
Denise Brown, the only councillor who hadn’t previously announced her opinion on the improved deal, voted in favour of the bid at their meeting on Tuesday, ultimately passing the motion before a packed gallery at London City Hall.
“Just for the record, this is not flip-flopping as some people will say,” Brown said during the meeting on Tuesday evening, “This was having had the opportunity to really research what’s before us.”
Brown was one of the seven councillors against the initial $10-million dollar request Fanshawe College put forward in July. That vote ended in a 7-7 tie.
Not long after, the downtown London business community made a Hail Mary bid to keep the deal alive. The London Downtown Business Association rallied its members to contribute $1 million from its MainStreet grant program, a move that lowered Fanshawe’s request to $9 million.
The newly brokered deal passed the committee level and finally landed on City Council’s desk on Tuesday where it would have one more chance to win the group over before taking on lame duck status on September 12th. At that point, Council will be prevented from making any financial decisions worth more than $50,000.
Tuesday’s meeting also saw Councillor Matt Brown put forward two amendments to the proposal: the first was re-instating a $75 per student head tax on 1,000 students who will attend classes in the old Kingsmill’s building, the second was a move to have Fanshawe reimburse the City of London the difference between its $9 million cash infusion and any budget surpluses on the Kingsmill’s project.
“Matt, I’m going to support your motion and let’s hope we move this forward and we move this city forward,” Denise Brown said when it came time to show her hand. Cheers and a roar of applause erupted from the packed public gallery.
Ultimately, Denise Brown told reporters, the last minute amendments helped secure her support.
“Without them, I (may not have) been able to support it so that meant a lot yes,” she told reporters during a break in the meeting after the vote.
“With the amendments, it was a lot easier to support. That means if there are overages from the renovations, that they’re going to come back to the city. Because that was one of my concerns, that we were maybe giving a little bit too much knowing the construction industry, how much the bids can vary from one extreme to the other.”
But not everyone was won over by the new aspects of the deal.
Councillors Bud Polhill, Bill Armstrong, Joe Swan, Stephen Orser, Paul Van Meerbergen, Dale Henderson and Sandy White all voted against the motion despite the changes.
During Tuesday’s debate, Swan didn’t hold back from sharing his thoughts on the costly Kingsmill’s renovation.
“I feel that the college may have done some property searches, but the market has changed,” he said. “There are a number of property owners in the community who feel that they can help the college relocate downtown for upwards of $20 million in savings.”
Swan went so far as to say it would be irresponsible for the City to not look for that $20 million.
Things got a little heated between Swan and City Manager Art Zuidema when the councillor asked about the possibility of Fanshawe going about its tendering process before the city committed to coughing up more cash.
Zuidema replied that he wouldn’t expect Fanshawe to advise them on the managing of a waste treatment plant or a children’s program, so they shouldn’t try to tell the college where to locate its new facility.
Zuidema said if the City of London continues to put in restrictions, it could lose out on the project all together. Swan jumped in and said Zuidema had made a “nice speech,” but that wasn’t what he’d asked him for and as councillors they have to protect taxpayers’ money.
But ultimately, the momentum was with those in favour of the project with Councillors Russell Monteith, Nancy Branscombe, Matt and Denise Brown, Paul Hubert, Harold Usher, Judy Bryant and Mayor Joni Baechler all backing it.
“We will lose this golden opportunity if we pass this up tonight,” Branscombe told the packed chambers before the vote.
Speaking after the decision, Fanshawe College’s President Peter Devlin said they were happy with the outcome.
“This is such a wonderful thing for London,” Devlin said. “It is pivotal, this is exciting. This is an investment in the future of Canada’s 11th largest city, a population nearing 400,000 and we want to keep that talent here in London.”
As for what comes next, Devlin laid out a fast-paced timeline.
“We’re going to talk to Kingsmill’s, we’re anxious to be able to tender the design and then tender the construction,” he said.
“We hope to begin that construction in the spring of 2015.”
Fanshawe College’s downtown expansion wasn’t the only big item on the agenda Tuesday night.
Councillors also voted to move forward with the idea of an integrity commissioner. In a vote of 13-2 (no votes from Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen and Dale Henderson) City Council endorsed continuing on with the process, but leaving the selection of the commissioner in the hands of the next council.
Councillors also voted to accept a Novita report on the proposed Performing Arts Centre when it is presented next month. Of course, City Council will be unable to vote on the issue at that time because of its lame duck status and the issue will have to be dealt with by councillors elected in the October 27th municipal election.