Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Saskatoon City Council backs flawed Lake Placid Investments Inc. proposal for Parcel “Y” making a mockery of its process

For Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison it would seem the interests of private developers and the size of their chequebook outweigh all else – including the City’s own established process.

In Council bypasses riverfront roadblock (SP Sept. 18, 2007) Atchison said any company willing to spend $125 million -- the estimated cost of Lake Placid’s proposed development -- in Saskatoon deserves congratulations instead of criticism.

“I think it’s about time that we started moving forward…I think people are anxious to see something occur sooner rather than later,” Atchison said.

At its September 17, 2007, meeting City Council unanimously gave its administration the go-ahead to begin negotiations with Lake Placid Investments Inc. for the development of Parcel “Y” within River Landing Phase I. In so doing Council made a mockery of its process.

The proposal by Lake Placid Investments falls short on several fronts and does not appear to meet the parameters City Council set out in the Expressions of Interest (EOI) it approved earlier this year – yet city administrators gave it a passing grade anyway.

The EOI called for a “destination attraction/gathering place.” City Council considers this a Priority 1 Essential Element whereas the office building in the developer’s proposal is a distant Priority 3 Allowable Use.

Section 5.0 of the River Landing Parcel “Y” Expressions of Interest (EOI) states:
“A destination attraction’s purpose is more clearly defined under “Permitted Uses” within the DCD1 guidelines: “to build on the Downtown’s role as the cultural heart of the city by the development of cultural facilities which can improve economic prospects and encourage tourism”. Suggested uses include, but are not limited to, publicly accessible interpretive centres, theatres, heritage facilities, museums, and art galleries.”
The public component of Lake Placid’s proposal consists of a “raised plaza” that includes a skating rink in the winter and a water pond/wading pool in the summer. A waterfall is also proposed. These are not cultural facilities and do not constitute a destination attraction.

Furthermore, the uses proposed by the developer do not appear to be permitted under the City’s Direct Control District 1 (DCD1) guidelines.

The DCD1 clearly state:

“The only permitted uses in the DCD1 are those listed in the following table: Uses for the DCD1.”

According to the table the only permitted uses are: Interpretive Centres, Theatres, Heritage Facilities, Museums, Art Galleries, Amphitheatres, Display Space, Events Programming, Tour Offices, Box Office, Public Institutional Offices.

Also in question is Lake Placid’s experience at developing and/or managing destination attractions and hotels.

Section 5.0 – Information to be Submitted of the EOI states:
“6. Development and Management Experience
Proponents are required to provide a description of projects the company has developed and/or managed over the past ten years. Experience in the type of development envisaged on the subject parcel (hotel, residential, retail, restaurant, destination attraction) is particularly important to note.”
The EOI’s that were submitted by Lake Placid Investments Inc. and the consortium of WAM Development Group/Concorde Group Corp. have not been made public. According to city administration, the Executive Committee “did not review, evaluate or even see any of the EOI’s.” City administration alone handled that. This is disturbing to say the least.

It’s understandable that City Council cannot possibly be expected to review every single matter that comes into city hall or get into the business of micromanaging day to day operations. But given the magnitude of the subject and controversy surrounding the South Downtown you’d think this is one time that Council should be involved and the city more open with the public.

Section 13.0 – Evaluation Criteria of the EOI states:
“To assist in shortlisting proponents the City will use a point system as a guide. Information that will be used as criteria for evaluation has been identified in Section 5.0 “Information to the Submitted”. The purpose of this information is to ensure that shortlisted applicants have financial capability and integrity, development experience and a concept that is considered with the South Downtown Concept Plan. This criteria and their point rating are summarized below:

Development and Management Experience – 30 points
Development Concept Summary – 60 points
References – 10 points
Total – 100 points”
A report by the city manager in the June 25, 2007, City Council agenda states: “The administrative committee conducted an evaluation based on the evaluation criteria and the information requirements of the EOI. The evaluation has found that both scored sufficiently to proceed to the RFP stage. The review indicated that Lake Placid and WAM/Concorde Group have captured the vision, land-use mix, and scale outlined in the EOI and have demonstrated the appropriate financial capacity.”

The report does not mention Development and Management Experience. Nor does it include a breakdown of the scores that each proposal received.

The only information that appears to be available to the public to gauge the experience of the developer is the RFP and what appears on the Lake Placid website. It seems the developer’s experience consists of two high-end condominium projects currently underway in Kelowna, BC and Calgary, AB. Destination attractions or hotels don’t seem to be listed anywhere.

This whole business calls into question the legitimacy of the City’s decision to give Lake Placid’s EOI a passing grade – when perhaps it should have been more appropriately disqualified – and City Council’s decision to allow the troubled proposal to proceed to the RFP stage.

To date the City has not provided any explanation as to how and why this mess was allowed to happen. With only two EOI’s being submitted it could be that the City couldn’t afford to lose one.


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