Who's attending the Downtown Summit? I am and I think a new, well designed city hall would be great for downtown London.
Building new City Hall part of mayor's core vision
Building a new city hall is a key part of Mayor Joe Fontana’s vision to keep revitalizing downtown London, The Free Press has learned.
With a summit on the downtown’s future looming next week, Fontana is pitching the pricey project — a source of debate for years — as a catalyst to trigger millions in private development in the core.
“This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
Details? Few have been offered, but Fontana says council must decide by this summer its plans for city hall — and he’s prepared for criticism of his idea.
It’s been estimated construction of a new city hall could hit
$100 million, a huge bill made all the more eye-popping considering the
mayor’s push for spending restraint and tax freezes.
But Fontana counters that the construction costs make sense considering what’s already being spent on the aging city hall.
Asbestos removal at the 40-year-old building could top $20 million, and the city spent $2.2 million last year leasing outside office space for squeezed-out staff.
Spending millions to maintain a city hall that some consider inadequate is a bad idea, Fontana says.
An alternative he lays out involves building a new city hall that could be “leveraged” to create an even larger project that would bring institutions and private companies into the core.
“We have an incredible opportunity. Let’s start setting the table and see what it looks like,” Fontana said.
This is clearly Fontana’s priority with the so-called Downtown Core Summit — something of a brainstorming exercise between politicians and the public — set for next Wednesday.
The summit, open to all Londoners, is expected to produce recommendations for downtown revitalization that would be presented to city council this spring.
That plan, though, raises some intriguing questions.
The proposed downtown Fanshawe College campus — which would receive up to $20 million in city money — was presented by the previous city council as the last piece of a decade-long public effort to revitalize downtown.
City hall has spent about $100 million on various projects over the past decade, most notably the John Labatt Centre.
Fontana’s arrival at city hall has clearly shifted those gears, and he’s made continued downtown renewal a priority.
But the next phase of big-ticket downtown projects — including the proposed new city hall — will be different, the mayor promises.
“$100 million in investment — did we leverage as much private-sector investment (through) that? In my opinion, no,” he said of the past decade.
“This time, it’s going to be the reverse: The private sector is going to come to the party, and we’re going to leverage that.
“I think we (city hall) have a role to play. I believe there’s a greater role by the private sector (which) has to come to the party in a big way.”
Not everyone, however, is convinced.
Fontana appears not to have consulted all of council on his vision, and some city hall veterans have questions about such a huge project.
“I’m certainly open to partnerships,” Coun. Joni Baechler said. “I’m also, well, it’s a lot of money. For me, the numbers have to make good sense. . . . It would have to be strong partnerships.”
The Downtown Core Summit is slated for Wednesday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Covent Garden Market.