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City chooses green developer for massive Baker District project

City hopes to see shovels in the ground by 2024 on a project that has been in the works since 2007

The city’s partner for the Baker District project is Windmill Development Group, a firm that specializes in green and sustainable projects.

At a special meeting of Guelph City Council Monday, it was announced that Windmill was chosen from the four finalists in the RFP process for the project, which will see a new main library anchor a development on the Baker Street parking lot that will include retail, housing for an estimated 500 people, parkland, parking, institutional and service uses.

The city hopes to have shovels in the ground for the Baker District redevelopment by 2024.

“This isn’t their first rodeo,” said Martin Jewitt, the city’s project manager said of Windmill, a company he said specializes in urban infill projects.

“This is a partner that gets us,” added Deputy CAO Scott Stewart.

At Monday’s meeting council unanimously approved the partner and $500,000 in the 2018 budget to move forward with planning and implementation. That money already exists in the 2018 capital budget.

Council had approved $7.5 million to acquire the rest of the land needed for the project and the $500,000 will come from that, city treasurer Tara Baker explained.

Jewitt with the city said that one of the main questions to be answered in the next stage is “who pays for what.”

Windmill’s presentation to the city said the economic impact of the project would be:

  • 950 jobs

  • 190 permanent jobs post-construction

  • 500 new downtown residents

  • An estimated $900,000 in annual property taxes

  • $7.3 million in annual retail spending

"This is one of the proudest moments of my time on council and as the mayor," Mayor Cam Guthrie said, saying that this isn't about the library, Baker Street or the downtown core, its about the impact it will have on the entire city.

"This is a stellar moment," Guthrie said.

The project carries a price tag of between $315 million and $369 million, the city has previously stated.

There was no discussion at Monday's meeting about how the project will be financed.

Conestoga College and The YMCA-YWCA are two potential partners that have been mentioned in the past for the project, which got underway on a conceptual level in 2007.

“This partner has brought up the possibility of a partnership with both Conestoga College and the YMCA, but that has to be firmed up,” Stewart said.

“I’m looking forward to the wedding,” joked coun. Cathy Downer of the possible marriage of uses.

“It’s an exciting time to be in Guelph and be on council,” said coun. Mike Salisbury.

“It’s a significant night for me because it’s been 12 years I’ve been sitting here waiting to push the ‘yes’ button,” coun. June Hofland said.

Coun. Phil Allt said he was thrilled the city wasn’t “messing around” or looking for a “bargain basement” way of doing the project.

Susan Watson, the lone delegate at Monday’s meeting, stressed to council that public consultation needs to be part of the Baker District moving forward, not just the library element.

Community engagement needs to be in the letter of intent between the city and the developer, Watson said.

Stewart said that public engagement requirements are embedded in the letter of intent.

City staff will come back to council with an update on the project in the spring of 2019.