City set to approve prime land donation for Balsillie school
June 23, 2008
A controversial plan to donate prime downtown land to the Balsillie School of International Relations is expected to be approved tonight when councillors vote to accept the final lease agreement.
The graduate school will be located on 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres) of land that was once home to the Seagrams distillery at Erb and Caroline streets. Under the deal, which takes effect July 1, the City of Waterloo will lease the land for a $1 a year for 99 years.
A three-storey, 50,000-square-foot building will open by the fall of 2010.
A second building, at 35,000 square feet, could be ready by the end of 2012. The second building will house a master's program in law, said John English, executive director for the Centre of International Governance Innovation.
Research In Motion billionaire Jim Balsillie donated $33 million. Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo contributed a combined $25 million for the school.
A director for the school will likely be announced next month, English said yesterday.
English said a graduate school will transform the core area.
The Balsillie school started a year ago with PhD and master's students studying at the local universities.
"It's going to bring very highly qualified and capable people to this community,'' he said. "We will have young and bright people living in the downtown, which is what every city craves.''
"It will make Waterloo the centre for the study of international affairs and build a lot of resources for the community,'' English said.
Within two years, the school could have 100 graduate students, said English
The joint venture is between Balsillie, CIGI, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Leasing the land to a school means property taxes aren't collected.
If the land had been sold privately, the property could have generated as much as $1 million a year in property taxes, a staff report has said.
Council approved the initial plans nearly a year ago. Coun. Ian McLean was the only politician to vote against the school.
At the time, McLean said council rushed into a secretive agreement with the Balsillie school, rather than selling the lands in an open and public manner.
As of press time, McLean could not be reached for comment.
Simon Farbrother, chief administrative officer for the city, said the Balsillie school in the uptown area is "achieving appropriate balance in managing the tax rate but also looking at the long-term development of the community.''
The school has already attracted award-winning author Thomas Homer-Dixon who begins his job next month as the Centre for International Governance Innovation chair of global systems at the Balsillie school.
Dixon is the former director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.
Size wise... ho hum. It better be very stylish.
I guess they didn't want to piss off the Seagram Loft owners.