By John Swartz
Orillia City Council’s Monday night committee meeting went ahead despite most other activities in Orillia being cancelled because of the weather. The evening’s most significant outcome came from the closed session prior to the public meeting.
One of the items involved a motion to support in principal a feasibility study Lakehead University wants to do to develop recreation uses for its 85 acre West Ridge campus.
“Lakehead is proposing to us they work with a third party to look at the feasibility of putting some facilities there that would compliment some facilities that we have – at Rotary Place and 255 West Street,” said mayor Steve Clarke after the meeting.
Lakehead was given a portion of the old Horne farm, valued at $5 million, in 2009, along with $5 million cash. A clause required the land be returned to the City if facilities weren’t built out by 2023. Since then funds for building out the campus have not been appropriated by the province and in 2016 the ‘gift back’ clause was rescinded, meaning Lakehead would not have to give back the property, however they are not allowed to sell any of it. This is why the university sought approval from the city to do a study, which involves a third party, and there is a possibility a third party may be involved with some aspect of owning or operating a recreation facility on the land.
“If they can build something out there we were thinking of putting up at some point and there’s a benefit to the City, we could become a user, it works for them, it works for us, it may just be a good demonstration of teamwork,” said Clarke.
Last year students had the opportunity to provide input to administration in three surveys about student and campus needs. Two focused on recreation. Most students said they wanted cardio machines and weight training, while they were equally distributed on the merits of having a gymnasium, fitness classes, a swimming pool, a track and intramural recreation programs. When asked about their use of YMCA memberships (Lakehead has an agreement with the YMCA), 63% said they are not regular users with the remainder visiting the YMCA at least 1 once a month to 5 times a week.
The third survey focused on other student needs like, club/meeting/study space, student lounges, having a coffee shop and a pub, and interestingly the need for a food bank on campus. These details were revealed to the County of Simcoe early in February, so the kind of new facility may be more than just for recreation.
Prior to the City deciding to build the Orillia Recreation Centre, Lakehead more than once offered land for a facility. While the City still has a degree of control over how the campus property is used, Clarke believes what may come of Lakehead’s feasibility study may benefit all of Orillia.
“It’s supposed to be specific to Lakehead (use of the land). All the users have yet to be identified. It may be primarily Lakehead, it may be others. These will be different facilities than we have, so we have a need for them as well,” he said. “If they can build something out there we were thinking of putting up at some point and there’s a benefit to the City, we could become a user, it works for them, it works for us, it may just be a good demonstration of teamwork.”
Clarke also believes Lakehead has to do something to keep attracting students.
“They believe this will, based on the study, will make them more competitive in the academic market, bringing students to town and improving the quality of life,”
Lakehead officials will be making a presentation to council March 4.
Another real estate item was on the closed agenda, this time concerning 150 Front Street South. The property is the former rail station occupied by the chamber of commerce. The City has had an on again, off again desire to sell the property and it appears a buyer is in line. Actually there was indication there was more than one offer for the property and council’s motion reflected a choice for one offer.
“We indentified the entity we want staff to enter into negotiations,” said Clarke.
The motion authorized staff to,” negotiate an Agreement of Purchase and Sale with the purchaser identified in Option 1 of the report.”
It also allocated $7,000 for legal fees from the land acquisition reserve. The last term of council a heritage designation was approved, and preserving the building was the focus of some councillors.
“I think they’ve (potential buyers) got a couple of exciting ideas and related development on the property, but I can’t talk about it. The exterior of the building needs to be maintained in a heritage look. The interior they have a lot more freedom,” said Clarke.
Clarke said he expects it will come back to council in 30 to 45 days.
Hold The Bus
People concerned bus service to Orillia Square Mall will end April 30 can breathe easier – at least until April 2020. Council agreed to keep the Orillia Transit’s third most popular stop in the route schedule when the mall owners, Bentall Kennedy (Canada) Limited, and the Township of Severn agreed to pay $30,000 toward the operating costs.
Several councillors were concerned the City was giving in to the mall owners, who are planning to redevelop the site, but councillor Tim Lauer said until the West Street bridge is reconstructed (in 2022) there was a more important reason to keep the service.
“I’d love to play hard ball right now, but the lack of transit will not stop people from going out there and they will use that bridge and that bridge in my opinion is treacherous,” said Lauer.
And to answer the idea the city should not be subsidizing shopping at businesses outside city limits, Lauer also had a counter.“I could go back to the original discussion. There was the argument that we were subsidizing business outside of the downtown, but there was also an argument that we were taking our citizens who are paying for their transit system where they wanted to go, and as is borne out by the fact it is one of the highest riderships in the city,” said Lauer.
Council’s next meeting is Monday March 4.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)