Only Fontana knows juicy details of $500M vision
By Norman De Bono The London Free Press
But after dropping that half-billion dollar bomb Thursday, Fontana was short on details.
“You will have to wait,” he said at a news conference.
In another big-number moment for the big-numbers mayor — he’s pledged 10,000 jobs over five years, and 2.5% annual tax-base growth — Fontana said he wants to see private-public partnership drive new building in the core region, including the South Street Hospital area, to the tune of $500 million over the next five years.
“We will build the most transformational thing,’’ Fontana said.
“It will happen in the downtown,’’ the mayor said. “Let us define ourselves in a way we have never defined ourselves.’’
The number caught some political and business people by surprise, and reaction was mixed — from head-scratching, to praise.
“I have not heard a thing about this, not a word,” said Coun. Joni Baechler. “I do not know where you would put that much money. Maybe he is more of a visionary than I know.”
The city has already pumped more than $100 million in local tax dollars into the core area, with a mix of developments such as the London Convention Centre, Covent Garden Market, John Labatt Centre and the Forks of the Thames re-development, to name a few.
So what else is there to build? Baechler asked.
“If he can do that, I will be the first to pat him on the back.”
But others praised the notion, saying it’s achievable and about time the city started thinking big.
“it is exciting, we have someone that can at least dream of London reaching that grandeur,” said Jim MacKinnon, president of Labourers Local 1059, the building trades union.
MacKinnon also believes it’s achievable, considering eight apartment and condominium towers have recently been built in the core — $200 million alone in private investment.
“It is not pie-in-the sky,” he said. “Over a period of time, it is a reasonable development target for this city. Look at the South Street hospital — it is a huge asset.”
South Street is an aging hospital complex expected to be demolished, freeing up land south of the core.
If that area is rebuilt, with more residential building downtown, and development from Fanshawe College, the University of Western Ontario and other institutions, it just might happen, he added.
The $500-million vision came at a news conference where Fontana talked about input he’s had from the Mayor’s Economic Council — business and other institutions in the city he refers to as the 10 pillars — on how to grow the local economy.
George Kerhoulas, a commercial realtor with Cushman Wakefield LePage, who sat on the boards for the public library and Covent Garden Market when they were redeveloped, believes the city should look at any investment that creates jobs and grows assessment.
“That would be an enormous investment,” he said of the $500 million. “We should take a hard look at that. But we should only spend public dollars if we can grow assessment and create jobs. If it doesn’t, why bother?”
As for the economic council, the mayor heard from its “pillars” the city needs to make it easier for business in the city, and that all institutions must work co-operatively.
The city will submit a report at the end of April, with an implementation plan based on council suggestions, on how to attract and grow business.
In unrelated economic news, a Chinese delegation looking to locate a solar manufacturing plant in southern Ontario made a London scouting stop Thursday on its tour. “We are in competition, but we will give them a good package,” Fontana said of the meeting with the London Economic Development Corp.
About three other renewable energy businesses are eyeing London as a possible manufacturing site, he added.
“They like our geography, they like the city and we have space to accommodate them,” said Fontana.
Hmmm I wonder what hes going do with it
but half a bill. is always good